Google and Amazon have been making heavy advertising pushes this holiday season for their smart home devices, the Home, and the Echo, respectively. You might even be considering purchasing one of these gadgets for one of your friends or family this Christmas. These neat devices are virtual assistants, giving information such as traffic updates, news, calendar events, and other more general info when they are activated by saying the wake word or phrase. This does raise an interesting security question, though: with the internal microphones and the devices waiting to hear the wake word, if you use the Echo or Home, does this mean that Amazon and Google are listening to you all the time?
Where does the Sound Go?
According to Amazon, when the Echo detects its wake word it streams a fraction of a second of audio before the word to the cloud and closes once the command has been processed. Google Home works in a similar fashion. It listens constantly and records in short snippets for its hot word, and, once detected, sends the command to Google’s servers. It’s safe to assume that both of these devices record all of the time and recordings are stored locally before either getting sent to servers for processing or deleted.
Storing Your Commands
But Amazon and Google store every audio recording that gets sent to their servers for processing. This is done, according to the companies, to enhance the overall experience with their products. There are options for deleting recordings but both companies strongly urge against it and point out that all recordings are encrypted when saved to their servers in order to protect sensitive information.
Both the Echo and the Home feature physical mute buttons that you can use for privacy purposes. Disabling the microphones, however, does defeat the overall purpose of these devices. So are Amazon and Google always listening when you use these devices? It seems that the devices themselves are always listening, but Amazon and Google will only hear you when you use the special wake word that tells the device to send your command to their servers.
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