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Can smart speakers put your privacy at risk?

A new study by NordVPN revealed that more than one-third of Americans have smart speakers in their homes. The growing demand for IoT devices raises privacy and security concerns that many users still ignore. How much of your data are you willing to share with manufacturers and what can you do to protect your private life?

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez

May 31, 2021 · 3 min read

Can smart speakers put your privacy at risk?

How many people use smart speakers?

When Amazon introduced Echo back in 2014, it quickly became one of the best-selling gadgets in the world and paved the way for other smart speaker manufacturers. As years went by, Echo has evolved from a rather primitive device used to play music and answer simple questions to a complex AI designed to control smart home systems and assist you with daily tasks.

According to research by NordVPN, the usage of smart speakers varies from 15.4% in the Netherlands to 32.5% in the US, 33.4% in Canada, and 42.4% in the UK.

Smart speaker usage

Smart speakers support a limited number of languages, and their popularity in many countries is still low. However, it’s just a matter of time until virtual assistants learn all major languages, significantly increasing their user base. In English-speaking countries, smart speakers have already become an important part of millions of households.

Smart speakers and privacy issues

Since the launch of the first smart speakers, privacy concerns have been growing. Think about this: you’re bringing a device into your private space which is capable of listening to your conversations, collecting data about your habits, and building consumer profiles. That’s a lot of privacy to give up for the convenience of a smart speaker.

There are numerous reported cases of people mistakenly triggering virtual assistants. The devices then recorded things they weren’t supposed to and sent those conversations to third-party contractors working on improving voice recognition accuracy.

While tech companies claim they analyze only a small amount of anonymized recordings to improve their services, these recordings often contain enough information to identify users.

We can never be sure how our data is stored, who has access to it, and how secure it is. With a growing number of smart appliances in our homes, privacy and security concerns have to be addressed directly.

Do users understand security risks?

NordVPN’s survey suggests that 55.9% of users think that protecting their smart home devices is their responsibility. However, many still believe that somebody else has to take care of it: manufacturers, sellers, ISPs, or the government.

Whose responsibility is it to protect the security of IoT devices?

We can’t take for granted that manufacturers will protect our private data. There are standards they have to meet, but putting security solely in their hands is risky. If you use a weak password on your router, even the most advanced security features won’t protect you from hackers. Cybersecurityis a shared responsibility and every party has to do its job.

Smart speakers can be a great tool to make our everyday life a little easier, but we have to know the risks and learn how to protect ourselves.

How to enhance your security and privacy

  • Manage your settings. Go through your smart speaker’s settings and prevent manufacturers from sending your recordings to third-party contractors to improve their services.
  • Mute your virtual assistant. If you’re not using your virtual assistant, it’s a good idea to turn it off. This way it won't be accidentally triggered without your knowledge.
  • Don’t discuss private matters. It’s best not to talk about your passwords, credit card details, and personal information when your speaker is turned on. Third-party contractors, criminals, or even the geeky neighbour next door could be listening to your conversations.
  • Delete your recordings. Depending on your smart speaker brand, you can delete your entire dictation history. Then, if somebody breaks into your Apple, Amazon, or Google account, they won’t be able to access your recordings.
  • Set up a different network for IoT devices. If perpetrators have managed to hack your home Wi-Fi, they could intercept conversations with your smart speaker. We recommend setting up a network dedicated solely to your IoT devices and smart home system. Consider enabling a VPN on your routers as well, to ensure that your data stays private.
  • Create strong passwords. Make sure to use lowercase and uppercase letters combined with special characters and numbers in your passwords. Avoid using the same password for all your accounts.
  • Use a VPN. A virtual private network encrypts your traffic and hides your IP address, mitigating the risk of getting hacked. With one NordVPN account, you can protect up to six different devices. If you enable it on your router you protect the whole household.
To see more of our research about IoT devices, check out the NordVPN Research Lab.

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