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Smart speakers listen when they aren't supposed to, study says

Privacy threat: Smart speakers may be recording you even when not being used
Posted at 4:00 AM, Jul 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-29 08:02:41-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly 90 million Americans own smart speakers, which offer hands-free convenience to users. Yet the fact that the devices rely on voice commands presents privacy challenges.

A new study from researchers at Northeastern University and the Imperial College of London found the speakers might be listening more often than consumers think.

The researchers played 134 hours of Netflix content to see how often Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Apple smart speakers record audio unexpectedly. It happens when a device thinks it hears a wake command like, "Hey, Siri."

The study found all 12 television shows caused speakers to wake up. For some devices, the misactivations happened almost once an hour.

Most misactivations were short, although in some cases they lasted 10 seconds or more.

There also was evidence that speakers learned from their mistakes, so the same phrasing did not trigger the devices a second time.

To protect one's privacy, Consumer Reports recommended muting the speaker when it's not in use and deleting recordings.

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