KOGO: Voice technology can be both amazing and frustrating. You can ask your phone a question; sometimes they’ll understand what the question is. You can talk to your speaker system. Even book an Uber. With the right setup, you can lock the doors in your house, dim the lights, do all kinds of great stuff.
But is there a serious privacy downside here? Cyber security analyst Keith Barthold is on the KOGO news live line. Keith, are these things, Alexa and Siri, always recording and where is it kept?
Keith: They actually are. They recorded a small loop waiting for that trigger word for Alexa, Siri, or OK Google, and once it was provided they store that sound file of the command. They also send your instructions off for translation and take an action or provide an answer.
KOGO: You said it’s recorded on a loop. Does that mean that it’s just waiting for us to say, “Hey Siri …” Do they keep the recording?
Keith: You can actually go out and get on Amazon or you can go to the configuration page for a Google home device and you can pull up the past recordings that it’s stored on. Those will be stored in your history. Those are very short clips of any instructions you’ve provided.
KOGO: So, in other words, if I look up how to bury a body and the cops can get that and you know they have me saying, “Hey, Siri, how do I bury a body?” So is it always somewhere?
Keith: It is. I mean, they’re capturing that information and they’re using it to enhance the voice recognition. You can delete that. You can pull that off your history. But it’s sitting on someone’s server. In the past year there was a subpoena that went out after a crime in Arkansas — a murder, actually — where there was an Amazon Echo found at the crime scene and nothing really came out. It does kind of open up that door.
KOGO: Is there a way to keep Siri or Alexa from doing that recording without giving up the convenience of being able to go, “Hey Siri …”
Keith: No. You know, at that point you really give that up. You can turn that off by turning the “Hey, Siri” feature off. You can also turn off the OK Google feature off your phone, but it’s just in the phone settings. Pretty simple setting, But the problem doing that with a personal assistant is with an Echo or with a Google home device at that point, it’s really kind of useless.