What do virtual assistants listen to?

Are technological devices listening to us? Smartphones are another element in the after-hours with friends and family and the surprise comes when products related to the conversation appear in the advertisements of the mobile browsers.

The question that arises is that of the beginning of this text: Do you hear us? Experts have mixed opinions: “We can’t be sure that any app is really looking at your speech, but it’s perfectly possible,” experts at Pen Test Partners explain.

The workers of this security company were challenged by the BBC to create an app capable of listening to the private conversations of its users. However, it is not necessary to go to the creation of a new application, since most of those installed on the latest generation mobiles have access to the microphone.

Whatsapp, Telegram, Facebook, Instagram and, above all, Google; because this way your virtual assistant wakes up when you pronounce «Ok Google». The accesses and permissions granted to the applications is a pending task for the users, to which now another important problem is added the smart speakers.

“Alexa put this song”; «OK Google, where is the doctor ?:« Hey Siri, how are you? They know everything about you, because you have told them, willingly or unwillingly.

Last March, several customers contacted Amazon to alert them to mysterious Alexa laughs without contacting her.

To this was added another scandal with the assistant of the company of Jeff Bezos. An American couple reported that Alexa recorded and shared a private conversation without their permission. Amazon explained that this is “an extremely rare case.” But what do they record and where are the conversations stored? Actually, these devices are on alert to detect the keyword and activate, be it Alexa, Siri or OK Google.

That is, they are continuously with the microphone activated and capturing the conversation. If that activation word is detected, the device keeps the recording to process it, if this does not happen the recording is deleted.

However, each product and each manufacturer has a different way of working. In the case of Google Assistant, the device does not constantly record, but starts to “listen” at different times to see if they “call”. Those little snippets are removed if the activation word is not detected “and none of that information leaves your device until the activation phrase is heard,” explains Google.

Big Brother in the cloud

All recorded recordings (Apple, Amazon, Google or Microsoft) go to the cloud. Amazon explains in its web service “deleting these recordings can degrade your experience when using the device”, so its objective is “to improve the precision of the results provided and to improve our services”.

The Amazon case and sound records are particularly important, because, according to the e-commerce giant, the information can in some cases be shared with third parties.

This month, an Amazon user in Germany requested the archive of his personal data and gained access to 1,700 audio recordings unknown to him.

The user exercised his rights under the EU General Data Protection Regulation by requesting his data from Amazon in August. Two months later, Amazon sent him a downloadable 100 Mb zip file. Some of the files were allegedly related to his Amazon searches. But, there were also hundreds of wav files and a PDF cataloging transcripts of Alexa’s interpretations of voice commands. An unusual fact for the user, because not any device with Alexa and had never used the service.

This was an unfortunate case of human error and an isolated incident. We have resolved the issue with the two clients involved and have taken steps to improve our processes. We also contacted the relevant regulatory authorities, “Amazon explained in a statement when it learned of the mishap.

In the case of Google, the search engine giant saves information to improve search results and also “offer better and more personalized answers and suggestions.” Recordings are saved indefinitely unless manually deleted by the user.

Apple, for its part, also has access to contacts by being on iPhones as a star device. Also, the collection varies depending on the information requested from Siri. In your case, the company of the bitten apple allows you to deactivate the voice dictation and end the audio recording for Siri.

About Aheesan Anbalan

Aheesan Anbalan is leading this blog writing for Day-To-Day. He has mastered the art of writing since his childhood, and with time, this has developed to be an enormous talent. He loves reading books, and by book, it means of all the genre. He is a very knowledgable person. Being a student of computer science it has become easier for him to understand the objectives and the expected results of this web blog.

Leave a Comment