Walls Do Have Ears If You Have A Voice Assistant In The Room

Photo of author
Written By Farid Shojaei

Switching on to a voice-assisted home could be a big turn-off for many if they realised who was eavesdropping on their most intimate conversations.

For call centre workers who monitor what Alexa, Google Home and Siri hear have revealed they listen in on couples having sex and overhear their most private conversations.

The listeners check out what voice assistants are hearing to make sure that the gadgets are as helpful as they could be and to reduce the number of mistakes they make.

The devices send random samples of conversations to distant call centres around the world, including Ireland, Germany and Spain.

Amazon has sold around 100 million Alexa devices and millions of them feed back snippets of anonymous conversations for transcription to better train the artificial intelligence engine that powers the technology.

Keeping your secrets

Part-time transcribers confessed to business and financial magazine Bloomberg that they were often shocked to hear people having sex, customers trying to order sex toys online and even a boy obsessing about rape fantasies.

Experts say always assume your voice assistant is listening in, so keep your secrets quiet or confined to rooms that are not wired for sound – and close the door just to make sure the keen listening gadget only hears a muffled conversation.

You can edit what your voice assistant hears.

Alexa has a setting that lets users review and manage voice recordings. Enable the deletion by voice toggle and say ‘Alexa, delete what I just said’ or ‘Alexa, delete everything I said today’ to access the memory.

Sex and zippers

The setting also shows what you have said over specific periods, like today or this month – even ‘All history’ so any private or sensitive conversations can be erased.

Apple will allow users to turn off Siri’s ability to send data for human review.

The problem is not confined to voice assistants. Apple’s Siri reviewers admit that Apple Watches switch on to the sound of a zipper and sex.

Google has suspended human reviews but does not offer an opt-out, while Microsoft has taken no action over privacy issues.

Facebook offers to switch off the human review on Portal.