Smartphone technology is just over ten years old, but they’ve become a critical part of our daily lives. Home-based AI like Alexa and Echo make our lives immeasurably easier. But all of this convenience and connectedness comes at a cost – and not merely what you paid for them.
The truth is, your devices are creepy listeners, invading your privacy on a daily basis. And they’re not doing it to make your life easier – they’re doing to farm data about you, which then gets sold to marketing firms. Here’s what to stay aware of, and how to protect yourself.
Practically every app you download comes with an agreement (that long screen you clicked through without reading) that it will collect data about you. While Facebook knowing how often you open it and what content you interact with is helpful for them, such apps usually collect far more data than that. Google Maps, for instance, literally keeps a record of your movements. And while this information has been useful to track the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, you probably don’t want Google to access your everyday data.
TikTok is one of the worst offenders. Not only does this app monitor how you use it, but it may also be spying on how you use other apps, and even eavesdropping on conversations or going so far as to track your movements. The company swears this isn’t true, but developers who have cracked open the API say otherwise.
Devices like Alexa, Amazon Echo, or Google Home say they only ‘wake up’ and listen to you when you say the right word. But, evidence strongly suggests that these devices eavesdrop frequently. Clips of your private conversations can wind up on Amazon’s cloud. Doorbell security devices like Ring have also been caught selling customer information to Facebook and Amazon – even after promising they weren’t.
And these companies aren’t eavesdropping on you to make you safer. It’s more like, Alexa monitors how often your family uses the bathroom because Amazon wants to sell you toilet paper. Or Facebook gathers information about you in order to manipulate your political opinions – much like how they worked with Cambridge Analytica in 2016 to do just that.
So what can the average person do to protect their privacy? Here are a couple of suggestions.
If you do decide to go for the app or product, most allow you to change the settings internally and thus restrict how much data is gathered. This process is different for each app, and can sometimes be tricky. At the very least, keep location tracking off unless you need it at the moment. If possible, keep Wifi and Bluetooth off as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to stay completely safe. But stay aware of trends in cybersecurity, and check your devices often.