How Secure are Alexa and HomePod?

How secure are Alexa and HomePod? Alexa and Siri are secured as far as their encryption and storage, but if the government gets involved, only the HomePod anonymity can protect your privacy.

Are your secrets safe?

We live in a world of innovative technology. Consumerism has reached a maximum point and with its new customer targeted smart technologies. Amongst these, we can mention Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s HomePod. 

The goal of these smart speakers is to provide customers with more information easily. Yet, there is an underhanded goal, to provide better products and advertisements targeted at each consumer’s needs. 

Now, we all know Alexa and Siri are listening, but are they safe? Do they keep our secrets? Many theorize that privacy is gone, so let’s see how safe are these devices and how Amazon and Apple protect us, their consumers. 

What is Amazon Alexa?

Alexa is a virtual assistant powered by AI technology. It was first used in the Amazon Echo smart speakers. It can do voice interaction, music playback, make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play audiobooks, provide the weather amongst other information.

There are over 100 million Amazon Echo units sold worldwide. This raises many concerning questions about how safe this device is, and especially the AI running in them.

What is The Apple HomePod?

HomePod is a smart speaker developed by Apple Inc. They are designed to work with Apple’s subscription service. The HomePods are considered to be the best sounding wireless smart speakers available. They are powered by Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.

Siri uses voice queries, gestures-based controls, focus tracking, and a natural language user interface to reply to different questions, make recommendations, amongst others.

What data does Alex and the Home Pod pick up?

Alexa and more specifically, Amazon, collect the questions people ask and store the recording. These questions and recorded interactions are used then, to improve the “smart” devices to make them more user friendly.

Other information picked up by Alexa can include maps of homes in the case of automated vacuums like the Roomba. Also, seemingly mundane data like when smart bulbs or the stove gets turned on. All of this provides a profile about who you are and your habits. 

Siri collects data which includes transcripts and audio. It also collects the locations from which the request was sent. However it gets stored under a random user ID number, that cannot be linked back to any individual. 

The data collected from Amazon and Siri helps the companies to improve their service. In the case of Amazon, to provide better-targeted advertisement, and to improve their user-focused service. For Siri, the main purpose is to better their Dictation and service in general. 

Privacy and Security concerns?

For starters, Amazon and Apple assure they have measures in place to prevent any abuse of this information. The companies say they take the security of their customers and their voice recordings very seriously. However, there have been cases where voice recordings have been used in criminal cases.

Many of these companies pledge to not turn over data without compelling court and government orders but on at least two occasions they have. In 2007, in a murder case that happened in Arkansas, Amazon tried to appeal to the First Amendment. Their motion got denied and they were forced to hand over the recordings. A similar case also happened in New Hampshire, with the same results.

What protects your privacy?

There are two main aspects of smart speakers that protect your privacy

  1. Encryption
  • Both Apple’s HomePod and Amazon Echo (Alexa) encrypt the voice recordings sent to their respective servers. However, the degree to which they keep the data a secret varies. 
  • For the HomePod, the answer is a bit unclear, the main idea is that Siri’s communication happens in Servers over HTTPS, which encrypts data between the Apple device and any other device
  • In the case of Alexa, the conversations are also encrypted in transit and protected once again when stored. 
  • This means the data collected by these devices is hard to steal, but only when it comes to hackers. If it is a government request then the story changes.
  1. ID?
  • All the data collected is linked to individuals, this is why Amazon was able to provide the data for the murder trial. Since their goal is to offer a personalized experience, they must tie the info collected to you, even when they encrypt and securely encode that data.
  • Unlike, Alexa, the HomePod sends the data anonymously, which means that there is no way to track down who says what. Also, Siri’s voice recordings only get stored for six months, after that, they get deleted. 

Amazon’s Siri vs HomePod?

While both devices collect our data in different ways, one is safer than the other in terms of security and privacy. 

Amazon has some fatal faults in its system. First, they collect personal information concerning the user’s homes and habits. They also assign an ID to each device, making it quite easy to know who is the owner of the collected data.

On the other hand, Apple’s HomePod prevents any potential data leakage by storing your information with a randomly generated ID. This could render it impossible for anyone to identify any recording. 

At first glance, both products Alexa with the Amazon Echo, Roomba, etc., and the Homepod with Apple’s Siri seem to be safe. But, in reality, the one and true system that protects your privacy is the HomePod by storing all data anonymously. 

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