A study says that smart speakers aren’t offering privacy, and it’s our fault

second hand smart speakers could be spying on you amazon alexa watching over
Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

Have we all given up on digital privacy? A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan took a good long look at the habits of smart speakers users and non-users and pretty much found that we’ve all resigned ourselves to a permanent and unfixable lack of privacy. It’s a phenomenon the scientists dubbed “privacy resignation.” The study finds that given the option to turn on privacy features, most users are unwilling to trade convenience for privacy, while even non-users exhibit resignation to privacy loss, albeit at a lesser degree than users.

To conduct the study of consumers’ use, habits, and attitudes around smart speakers, the researchers conducted in-depth interviews of 17 smart speaker users and 17 people who have intentionally avoided buying a smart speaker. The results are illuminating as are the team’s recommendations to smart speaker designers and manufacturers.

It makes sense that the interviews revealed that non-users don’t value the utility that smart speakers offer, or do not trust speaker manufacturers and their parent companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple.

However, the study found that while speaker users express fewer privacy concerns, their rationalizations for using the digital assistants indicate an incomplete understanding of privacy risks and easily trade privacy concerns for convenience.

Even worse, most users are either unaware of privacy controls or too lazy to turn them on. The researchers found that most of their subjects had never used the mute button on their smart speaker. It was also extremely rare to find a smart speaker user who regularly reviewed their activity logs, where they can review and delete recordings.

“We really have to trust Google and Amazon that they respect people’s privacy and adhere to what they’re describing,” Professor Florian Schaub, a co-author of the study, told Motherboard. “It’s still a fact that you are putting a live microphone into your home and your intimate spaces, and it’s software that decides whether it’s recording with a trigger word or all the time.”

The study is filled with telling quotes from the study’s subjects about digital convenience and privacy.

“I think the battle of privacy and convenience has been won by convenience,” stated one anonymous test subject. “And I’m OK with that because I live in a world where this convenience is what makes my life a little bit easier to navigate and things more enjoyable and that’s OK.”

The study does make several concrete suggestions to help bridge the clear gap between privacy and convenience, including enabling users to mute smart speakers with voice commands instead of the mute button, more clearly communicating the value of audio logs as a privacy feature, and an “incognito” mode for smart speakers.

“Strong security and privacy standards, conversational privacy dialogs, designing privacy security with resigned users in mind, and privacy-friendly defaults could provide a better foundation for people’s trust in smart speakers, as well as soften the feeling of resignation,” the study summarizes.

Emerging Tech

Asteroid Ryugu is porous, shaped like a spinning top, and is formed of rubble

The Japanese Space Agency has been exploring a distant asteroid named Ryugu with its probe, Hayabusa 2. Now the first results from study of the asteroid are in, with three new papers published.
Emerging Tech

A hive of activity: Using honeybees to measure urban pollution

According to a new study from Vancouver, bees could help us understand urban pollution. Scientists have found an innovative way to measure the level of source of pollution in urban environments: by analyzing honey.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.

Don’t be fooled! Study exposes most popular phishing email subject lines

Phishing emails are on the rise and a new study out by the cybersecurity company Barracuda has exposed some of the most common phishing email subject lines used to exploit businesses. 
Smart Home

These best outdoor security cameras will keep porch pirates at bay

Worried about porch pirates stealing your packages, or intruders entering your home? Always be in the know about who or what is on your property by installing one of these outdoor security cameras.
Smart Home

Your Instant Pot can do it all. Research says it has another important function

Researchers at Dakota State University tested a variety of pressure cookers for sterilization and found that Instant Pot provides enough pressure and heat to kill off food-spoiling bacteria.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robotic companions and computer-aided karaoke

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Need some help? Here's our handy step-by-step guide on how to Airbnb your home

Getting ready to make your home a great rental? Here's how to Airbnb your home with the right amenities, insurance, supplies, and everthing else that you need. Use this guide to get started without making beginner mistakes!

Dyson sale shatters prices on vacuums just in time for spring cleaning

Steep price cuts on Dyson vacuum cleaners for the spring cleaning season help you save money on the tools you need to do the job. We've found the best discounts on Dyson vacuums from Amazon and Walmart and put them all in one place.

Amazon slashes prices on Echo devices that play Alexa’s sweetest-sounding music

Amazon slashed prices on Alexa-controlled Echo devices with the best music sound quality. All Alexa smart speakers stream music, but some sound better than others. Save on Echo Plus and the Echo Sub bundled with Echo and Echo Plus speakers.
Product Review

Simple and small, the Google Home Hub is your low-key smart screen

What’s small, simple, cute, and lacks a camera? The Google Home Hub is the latest smart display to hit the market. Powered by Google Assistant, there’s a lot to like about this device.
Smart Home

Arlo listens to feedback, improves video quality for its premier security camera

Arlo relaunched its flagship Arlo Ultra 4K HDR security camera system with worldwide availability. Arlo fixed issues from a limited early release and now the marquee brand is available in multiple configurations with A.I-driven monitoring.

Apple March 2019 Event Coverage

Apple’s next event will take place March 25 at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, California at 10 a.m. PT. We’ve got a handy guide on how to watch, but don’t expect to see any new iPads, iMacs, or AirPods at the show, all of…

The best iRobot Roomba deals to make cleaning your home a breeze

Keep your home clean without lifting a finger using a robot vacuum cleaner. These nine iRobot Roomba deals not only help you keep your home tidy, but many also come with advanced features such as automatic scheduling and Wi-Fi connectivity.