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Is Alexa/Siri/Google Assistant Spying On You?

Cameras spying on two people

Is Your Voice Assistant Spying On You?
Do Alexa, Siri And Google Assistant Record Everything You Say?

You're at the water cooler and your coworker says:

"I think my Alexa is spying on me! Last night, my wife and I were talking about vacuum cleaners. Ten minutes later, I logged in to Amazon to buy some socks, and what do I see? Ads for vacuum cleaners... They're listening to everything we say. Someone's gotta put a stop to Big Tech before we end up living in the Matrix."

We've all heard stories like this, or perhaps even experienced similar things ourselves. But are they correct? Do voice assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant listen to everything we say, even when we haven't said the wake word?

Probably not.

According to the companies, these voice assistants are always listening for the wake word, but they don’t record and send audio to the servers until they hear the word.

However, there have been numerous instances where voice assistants were caught listening when they shouldn't have been. These are mostly attributable to rare bugs, or the voice assistant mistaking other sounds for the wake word.

There is no evidence that these devices are secretly listening to us en masse. You can even check the settings to see which recordings have been stored, so you can confirm this yourself.

Why Wouldn’t They Spy On Us?

If these companies were caught in the act, it would be a PR disaster. Would it be worth the fallout, given that these companies already know so much about us due to our other internet activity? Do they even need to record everything we say, especially when considering just how much the storage would cost?

Why Do We See Ads For Products We Just Talked About?

One of the most likely explanations is coincidence. As humans, we seek out patterns and tend to ascribe meaning to things that are really just coincidental. The reality is that we talk a lot and we also see ads all day long. It’s not absurd to think that sometimes the two will overlap out of sheer coincidence and we'll see an ad for something we just talked about.

To be fair, there may be more than just coincidence involved in these situations. The reality is that most of us rely on these platforms for their convenience. Our interactions leave the companies with troves of our data, which tells them a lot about us.

Alexa may not have been listening when you were talking about vacuums, but Amazon may have collected enough data through other pathways to know that you just moved to a new house, and you may need a bunch of new appliances to get settled.

The Main Takeaway: Don't just worry about your voice assistant recording you. Worry about all of the data produced by your interactions with your devices, and how this information may be used by companies whose interests may not align with your own.

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Cybersecurity and privacy writer.

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