Alexa, Google Assistant And Siri Might Be Eavesdropping More Often Than You Think


Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri might be listening to your daily conversations at least 19 times a day according to a new study carried out by researchers.

Written By Danish Ansari | Mumbai | Updated On:
Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri

Your smart home speaker listens to a lot of your private conversations than it should. While you may be aware that these virtual assistants have been programmed in a way that they listen for their wake phrase. But sometimes mishear things and thereby get activated, ending up listening to stuff that wasn't really meant for them.

According to a research carried out Northeastern University and Imperial College London researchers, it has been found that some smart speakers powered by super-intelligent voice assistants, such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Cortana, can accidentally activate as many as 19 times during a day and record close to 43 seconds of your conversations every time.

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How was the research conducted?

The research was conducted by simulating real-world conditions that saw the researchers play 125 hours of audio from several Netflix shows. By recording video feeds of the speakers to find out if their lights were activated, and by monitoring the network to see if there has been any traffic that was going back to the cloud, it was determined when the smart speakers were actually recording.

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Here's what the researchers found

It was reported that smart speakers, including the Google Home Mini, Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo Dot, and the Harman Kardon Invoke, got routinely activated by mishearing words and would activate up to 19 times each day on average, thereby earwigging up to 20 to 43 seconds every time.

Apple HomePod was reportedly the worst culprit of them all, as it switched on to a lot of phrases. Speech that started with a 'Hi' or 'Hey', followed by something that sounded like an 'S' and a vowel, or something that sounded like a 'ri' were a few of the mistaken detected. Amazon’s Echo Dot 3 mistakenly woke up the least times during the study, whereas, Alexa was activated by the phrase 'my pants on'.

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Do smart speakers listen to personal conversations?

Every show caused at least one of the devices to activate, while most shows woke up multiple devices, although the results were mostly inconsistent. The research was carried out with each device for 12 times, except for the Harman Kardon speaker -- with just four tests. However, the researchers also stated that there was no evidence to suggest that the smart speakers were constantly listening to their conversations and activated only when they detected a perceived wake word.

The solution

If you are concerned about accidentally activating your smart speaker, you should know that there are certain models that come with a feature that allows you to mute their inbuilt microphones.

Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Nest speakers give users the ability to do so using a dedicated mute button, while there are many smart displays that feature a physical camera slider to block the camera from recording. 

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Image credits: Amazon | Apple | Google

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