Cybersecurity expert breaks down conversation recorded by Alexa, new privacy laws

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah(News4Utah) Is the Amazon Echo spying on you? Right now, that is one of the questions Amazon is facing over its voice assistant Alexa, which powers its Echo speakers. A woman in Portland, Oregon says her Echo speaker recorded a conversation with her husband, then sent the audio file to one of their contacts. Robert Jorgensen, Cybersecurity Expert from Utah Valley University weighs in on whether or not to be concerned.

Jorgensen says these seem to be a perfect storm of errors. Many of us have accidentally activated Alexa or Siri, or some other device, with a word that sounds close. In this case, Jorgensen says it seems that the conversation in the background was interpreted as a command to send a voice message to a contact and then a confirmation to send the message. 

So, should we be concerned that these devices are listening to us? Jorgensen says yes and no. To work, they need to listen to us. Typically only small commands are sent to be analyzed and they are not sending everything they hear. At the same time, there is always a chance they may inadvertently capture something. He says if you are having a really sensitive conversation, you may want to mute the device for privacy.

Speaking of privacy, many people have been getting emails from a lot of companies saying they are updating their privacy policies. On Friday, a new European law went into effect, The General Data Privacy Rule, or GDPR, requires companies provide a lot more detail about how they use consumer’s data and also give consumers access to view and even remove their own data.

Even though it’s a European law, we are seeing it in the U.S. Many companies maintain a single privacy policy and to comply with their new EU law, they have updated things for everyone.

It remains to be seen whether or not this will change the way companies use date, but Google and Facebook have already been sued under the new law. 

For more information, visit UVU.edu/Cybersecurity.

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