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Data Expert Warns Smart Devices Could Be Used To Work Out Your Relationships With Others

Tom Wood

| Last updated 

Data Expert Warns Smart Devices Could Be Used To Work Out Your Relationships With Others

Featured Image Credit: PA

We all know that nothing is a secret out here in the 21st century. Everything is either posted on Facebook, recorded by smart advertising AI, or recorded by smart speakers representing huge companies that we've basically invited into our kitchens.


According to one privacy expert, pieces of smart tech in the home - smart devices or even a smart energy meter - compile enough data to work out what is going on in your relationships.

A former advisor to the US government on data recently spoke at a conference in Washington DC about how conversations taped by smart speakers as well as location data could be used for all sorts of stuff, including working out 'social relationships'.

Google Home. Credit: PA
Google Home. Credit: PA

The potential is massive. They could record everything you say if they wanted to. Who is to say that some clever boffin couldn't work out how?

Duke University's Ashwin Machanavajjhala said: "Smart meters can tell you whether an individual is at home and what appliances are used.

"Smart light bulbs and wifi access points can reveal occupancy. Social relationships between building occupants can be inferred by analysing sensor logs.

"Smart TVs and voice assistants can pick up living room chatter, some of which may be shared with third parties."

An Amazon Echo alongside a Google Home. Credit: PA
An Amazon Echo alongside a Google Home. Credit: PA

Yeesh, that's kinda terrifying.

In the UK, around 1 in every 10 people has a smart speaker. Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod are just a few products on the market with the capacity to do this sort of thing.

Despite selling like hotcakes, we're not 100 per cent sure what exactly is going on with the vast amounts of data that they receive on the regular. It's still early days yet, anything is possible.

That's the scariest fact of all. We just don't have a clue what could happen.

An Apple HomePod. Credit: PA
An Apple HomePod. Credit: PA

Needless to say, Professor Machanavajjhala doesn't have such a device in his gaff. He told the American Association for the Advancement of Science: "I'm waiting for privacy protections to come in. We need to know what is being collected about us, whether or not we have anything to hide.

"Smart devices move data to the cloud so they can be analysed using sophisticated algorithms.

"Once data is on the cloud users lose control over it. There is little transparency about who it is shared with."

Just to keep us feeling safe, Amazon reassured users that they can delete voice recordings at any time.


A spokesperson told The Sun: "At Amazon customer trust is of the utmost importance, and we take privacy seriously. By default, Echo devices are designed to only capture audio after it detects the wake word.

"Only after the wake word is detected does audio get streamed to the cloud, and the stream closes immediately after Alexa processes a customer request.

"No audio is stored or saved on the device. Customers can also review and delete voice recordings in the Alexa App or by visiting www.Amazon.co.uk/privacy."

Google also said that users don't need to worry about devices listening in to everything that's said around them unless they use 'hotwords'.

A spokesperson for the tech giant said: "All the devices that come with the Google Assistant are designed with privacy in mind. We only process speech after the hotwords 'OK Google' or 'Hey Google' are detected.

"The privacy and security of our users is of the utmost importance, which is why we have spent years making available tools like the MyActivity so people can see, understand and control their Google data and make the privacy choices that are right for them."

Topics: Science, Google, News, Interesting, Technology, Weird, Amazon, Apple

Tom Wood
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