It has been said that the term “eavesdropper” evolved from those who stood under the eaves of a house to surreptitiously listen to the goings-on inside. In this age of digital advancement, we now invite eavesdroppers into our homes and offices in the form of artificially intelligent digital assistants. While devices like the Google Home, Apple’s Siri and the Amazon Echo offer great convenience and enjoyment, there are privacy trade-offs; and some are less obvious than others.

When you welcome one of these devices into your home or workspace, you add a digital device that is at your beck and call because it is always “listening.” For instance, Google Home listens to snippets of conversations to detect the “hotword” and Amazon’s Echo begins streaming to the cloud “a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word” (typically, the word is “Alexa”) is detected. When we use the “hotword” or “wake word” to summon these devices, it should come as no surprise that our interactions are tracked and recorded by the device’s service provider. You can review and delete your history but that comes with trade-offs as well. Google explains that deleting your interaction history will limit the personalized features of your Google Assistant. (Look here to view your interaction history with Google.) Amazon similarly explains that deleting your voice recordings “may degrade your Alexa experience.” Apple is more elusive. It has stated that it will anonymize and encrypt voice data from its forthcoming HomePod speaker, but less clear is what Apple actually intends to do with that encrypted data.

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