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Home / Tech / Hey Google, is my wife listening to my chats?

Hey Google, is my wife listening to my chats?

A survey by University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers in Canada found that people feared potential misuse of the device from people they actually live with and know.

tech Updated: Jan 29, 2020 20:35 IST
Indo Asian News Service
Indo Asian News Service
Toronto
Amazon Echo, center, and a Google Home, right, are displayed in New York.
Amazon Echo, center, and a Google Home, right, are displayed in New York.(AP)

More than hackers, people are worried about friends, family and others who can listen to their conversations via smart speakers, reveals new research.

A survey by University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers in Canada found that people feared potential misuse of the device from people they actually live with and know.

“They worried that their housemates could order stuff online, overhear private conversations or access other people’s reminders, calendars and phone contacts,” explained Konstantin Beznosov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who specializes in cybersecurity at UBC.

“Of course, they were aware these actions could well be unintentional--such as a child accidentally using the last-number-dialled feature to call up their parent’s employer, for example”.

Also read: Apple HomePod smart speaker confirmed for India launch; price revealed

The team spoke to 26 Canadian adults who used shared smart speakers at home, including Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod.

They found that participants not only worried about keeping their data safe from the manufacturer or other entities; they also feared potential misuse of the device from people they know.

Interestingly, the nature of the concern depended on the participant’s “mental model” or technical understanding of how smart speakers work, said study primary author Yue Huang, a PhD student in electrical and computer engineering.

“Participants who were very familiar with shared smart speakers were more worried about how technology shortcomings could affect the security of their devices,” said Huang.

An example is a smart speaker that occasionally fails to distinguish the main user’s voice from another, which means it could grant people access to information they shouldn’t have.

Also read: Hi Alexa, Hey Google: Here’s what we expect to see from smart speakers in 2020

However, users with more basic knowledge of how smart speakers work were more focused on their housemates’ potential actions, and this sometimes meant seeing a threat where there was none.

“One participant who worried his family member could redial a number was unaware the feature was not even available on the device,” said Huang, noting that the study is the first to explore these mental models about shared smart speakers and link these models to attitudes.

The results suggest that more work is needed to improve consumers’ understanding of shared smart speakers and to make the technology more reliable.