It’s Not Just Recordings: 4 Common Smart Speaker Hacks

It’s Not Just Recordings: 4 Common Smart Speaker Hacks
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Smart home speakers are gaining in popularity, with 1 in 6 Americans adopting such home assistants as of late 2017. Unfortunately, despite their popularity, many owners or prospective buyers are feeling anxious about this tool. Users have reported Alexa speakers recording and sending conversations, an invasion of privacy, while others are worried about their speakers’ constant background “listening.”

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Luckily for those who are interested in using a smart home speaker, there are a range of hacks that can help secure your information and guard against some of the most common complaints about smart speakers.

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These four strategies, when part of your standard smart speaker practices, will make you less vulnerable to data leaks and hacker tricks.

Common Smart Speaker Hacks - Watch Out For Squatters

Smart speakers work by calling on a range of “skills” associated with specific commands, whether it’s a request to play music, run a search, or set a timer, and each speaker has its own skills. Of the major speaker brands available, for example, Amazon Echo has over 15,000 skills, while Apple HomePod’s system is much more limited. But don’t be tricked into thinking more is always better. Echo is highly vulnerable to a practice known as voice squatting that can put your data in danger.

What is voice squatting, exactly? The basic idea behind voice squatting is that there are lots of words and phrases that sound alike. Voice squatters design apps, then, that respond to equivalent phrases, such as “Alexa, start Capital Won” instead of “Alexa, start Capital One.” Suddenly, these illicit app developers have access to speech recording tools within your device. Amazon is working on greater protections against voice squatters but if you’re worried about security issues, beware of linking banking and other important accounts to your smart speaker. The risk isn’t worth the convenience.

Do Some Vocal Training

One of the most specialized tasks smart speakers are capable of is recognizing different voices. Take advantage of this. Without voice training, speakers have accepted orders from parrots and small children, among others.

When used properly, smart speakers can apply voice-dependent security features – so, for example, your six-year-old can’t order piles of Legos from Amazon by asking Alexa nicely. Your speaker will also be more likely to understand your requests when it's been trained on your voice, meaning better results and fewer misunderstandings. It’s all about vocal nuances.

Manage The Mic

Obviously, the microphone is the most important part of your smart speaker, allowing it to pick up your voice and respond to requests, but it’s also where most security problems start. Luckily, it’s easier to disable your speaker’s microphone than you might think. Most have a button that allows you to physically disable the mic, meaning you can have that private conversation without worrying about Alexa listening.

You can also restrict the microphone on your device, meaning only certain apps have access to it. This can help when it comes to those voice squatters, but there are plenty of apps that want to listen to you. Keep the microphone limited to the most vital, and maintain greater control over your data.

Don’t Forget To Delete

Not only does your speaker record information, but it also saves it, so just like you delete the cookies and browser history on your computer, make sure you remember to delete voice snippets from your device library. While some are harmless and you’re free to leave them, regularly viewing your voice snippets can give you a sense of what your speaker is up to in the background.

Your smart speaker is there to help, not to spy, but you wouldn’t know this from the news recently. The fact is, we need to remember that these speakers are still a new technology and that means they come packed with glitches. If you want to keep using them, take precautions. As with email and apps, there will always be risks any time we connect to the web, and we need to use the tools at our disposal to dodge them.

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Ankur Shah is the founder of the Value Investing India Report, a leading independent, value oriented journal of the Indian financial markets. Ankur has more than eight years of equity research experience covering emerging markets, with a focus on India and South East Asia. He has worked as both a buy-side investment analyst for a global long/short equity hedge fund and a sell-side analyst for an emerging markets investment bank. Ankur is a graduate of Harvard Business School. You can learn more about his latest views on global markets at the Value Investing India Report. -- He can be emailed at [email protected]
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