How safe is your 'smart' home?

Amazon Alexa and Google Home may know too much about you

16 Jul 2018

Amazon Alexa and Google Home offer convenience around the house by using your voice instead of a keyboard to execute commands. But some privacy advocates worry that these and similar devices hear too much.

If the idea of technology listening to you all the time is creepy, you are not alone. Let’s take a look at how your smart home works, how Amazon and Google use your information and whether or not these new devices take things a little too far.

How Alexa and Google Home work

Amazon Alexa and Google Home are the two most popular smart home tools. You can awake an Amazon device with the code word “Alexa” or your Google Home by saying “Hey Google.” Once you do, they can help you with a wide range of household tasks, like controlling your TVs, lights, security systems, garage doors, locks and other home systems. Plus, they interact with your calendar and other apps to bring you news, weather, your schedule and estimated commute time, among other helpful features.

These smart home devices, however, are not without skeptics. If they are listening for the codewords to activate, it means that they have to be listening all the time. This gives reason for caution on what is done with your data, whether it is being stored securely and what may happen if a cyber criminal accesses your devices.

What Amazon and Google do with your data

The primary use of these devices is to simplify your life. Jamie Howard, UBS Deputy Head of Fraud Risk Management, says, “Many Internet of Things applications are designed foremost with ease of use and functionality in mind. They are designed to make your life easier. Security may not be in the forefront of the mind of developers.”

This means you should consider digital security before bringing new devices into your home. “They represent a significant risk,” adds Howard.

For most of us, the worst-case scenario is that a device provider will use the data for marketing purposes, advertising to you items that you are most likely to buy. But in some cases, criminals can breach your home network. Remember, it only takes one bad device to bring down your entire home network. “The more of these devices you add, the more opportunities for a fraudster to find a gap in your defenses,” Howard warns.

Shore up your data privacy

Alexa and Google both offer settings to improve your privacy, and if you ever want them to completely stop listening, you can tap the button on the device to mute the microphone.

But home data security goes far beyond the devices you can talk to. “Don’t just plug something in without changing the username and password. It is the equivalent of walking into a home and leaving the front door wide open,” says Howard. Use strong, complex passwords for every account and device.

“When the network technician sets up your router and leaves, you don’t know how it was set up. The first thing you have to do is protect that router. Everything connects to the signals it produces,” Howard continues. “Use good firewalls and antivirus software. It doesn’t matter what the device is. It’s all about basic data hygiene.”

Does it go too far?

It is up to you to follow your best judgement when it comes to connected home devices. While it is fun to turn on your lights with your voice or ask a device how long your laundry has been left in the dryer, the risks may not be worth the convenience.

Prioritize securing online data to keep your financial life protected. That includes the Internet of Things, connected devices, smartphones and everything in between. Howard puts it best: “In the same way you wash your hands, you should always practice good cyber hygiene.”

Are you doing everything you can to protect and grow your wealth? Together we can find an answer. Connect with your UBS Financial Advisor or find one


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