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04/15/2019 / By JD Heyes
American consumers are becoming more aware of home “assistant” products offered by tech behemoths Amazon and Google that act as ready reference devices.
No doubt you’ve seen the commercials: A guy in the kitchen asks his machine how much of an ingredient to use for a dish; a high school student asks a question she has for an assignment; a mom wants to know where the nearest quick-care clinic is located, and so forth.
All of these devices are wirelessly connected to home Internet systems. They have to be; that’s how they function. That makes then vulnerable to hacking, which can allow someone to virtually eavesdrop on your home.
Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home are both susceptible to hacking techniques known as “voice squatting and voice masquerading,” according to CSO Online, which allow hackers to eavesdrop on conversations and/or steal sensitive personal information. And if hackers can do this, then it’s a safe bet the government’s intelligence agencies can do it as well.
But there is more to worry about than just hackers and government snoops. It turns out the companies that make the devices have designed them so they can secretly gather data and even record conversations — the latter of which is very illegal in many states.
…Google announced [in February] that Nest Secure, its home security alarm system, was getting updated. Following the upgrade, the company said, users would be able to utilize Google Assistant, a virtual-assistant technology.
But there was an issue users weren’t previously aware of: They didn’t realize that their Nest system had a microphone to begin with.
As further noted by Business Insider, the fact that Nest Guard — the “alarm, keypad, and motion-sensor component” in the Nest Security package — was built with a microphone included was never revealed in any of the product material that accompanied the device. When contacted by the news site earlier this year, a representative at Google called the failure to disclose the microphone an “error.”
“The on-device microphone was never intended to be a secret and should have been listed in the tech specs,” said the spokesperson, who was not named in the story. “That was an error on our part.” (Related: Google now SPYING on students using classroom technology, while pretending to be “teaching” them.)
Building a device with a microphone in it is a pretty big deal; doing so and then somehow neglecting to inform consumers that a mic is included in the device they just bought isn’t an oversight; it’s an intentional act of omission.
Okay, but — is this really even a big deal? Surely Google wouldn’t use its devices to secretly record or eavesdrop on consumers, which is highly illegal in many states, would it?
In a word, yes. As NewsTarget reported back in 2017:
Complaints have been made by users who feel that they are being spied on by Google’s assistant. One instance is when Google’s assistant picked up the conversation between one man and his friend, and even recorded the code to his backdoor security. Another example is when a different individual was cursing at something, without him noticing that he was being recorded.
In 11 states, this kind of recording is highly illegal. So-called “two-party states” require the consent of both parties in phone calls and other electronic communications before they can be recorded legally. They are California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
Other states are “one-party” states where only one person or party need know the recording is taking place. The question is, in states where consent from both is required, why aren’t the tech giants facing any legal repercussions for stealing consumer data via voice recording?
Tagged Under: Amazon, Big Tech, computing, cybersecurity, dangerous tech, data theft, deception, eavesdropping, evil, failure to disclose, Google, hackers, hacking, hidden mic, illegal activity, listening devices, one party, personal data, police state, privacy watch, secret recording, spying, surveillance, tech giants, technocrats, two party, voice recording