Why You Shouldn’t Let Smart Devices Outsmart You

It doesn’t matter if you live in the countryside or in the city, your life is permeated by gadgets and smart devices every day. From the smartphones we use for communication and to consume media and entertainment, to your refrigerator, vacuum cleaner and thermostat, everything operates according to smart technology which most of us don’t understand.

There’s a growing trend of disillusionment with smart devices as most people realize that they’re not capable of fully comprehending how these devices work. A lot of people are starting to mistrust their smart devices. This is part of the reason why the following meme went viral:

The truth is that people are waking up to the reality that there’s a possibility of smart devices outsmarting you. Plus using them can limit personal security and privacy to a degree. Unfortunately, they’re so pervasive that it’s impossible to completely avoid them. Instead of trying to remove smart devices from our lives completely, maybe the best thing to do is educate ourselves about how they work. This way we can cultivate a healthy relationship with the electronic devices and gadgets we use on a daily basis. 

Attention: Read before you continue

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Will Smart Devices Record Your Conversations?

In addition to the smartphone in your pocket, you probably have a Google Home or Amazon Echo device. These devices can transform any house into a smartphone. They allow you to control the lights and temperature, open the blinds and control other aspects of your house from a central location. You can also use them to play games and music, ask the time, and make restaurant reservations. You can even control the music playing throughout your house.

These devices feature a built-in speaker which is always waiting for you to say the magic words “wake” to awaken it. While it’s safe to assume that most of these devices stay asleep when not in use, we have no way to guarantee that they’re recording our conversations. Or watching everything that happens in your home.

Both Google and Amazon, the manufacturers behind these devices, have come out saying that they don’t record or listen to conversations. But, a recent murder case in Arkansas has most of us scratching our heads. Not only did Amazon exercise their First Amendment rights by refusing to provide recordings from the device that was present at the murder scene, they didn’t deny the existence of a recording. 

In another case, an Amazon Echo user asked the company to supply him with all the data they’d collected from his device. They sent him a conversation which was recorded in a friend’s home through another Echo device.

These incidents show us that:

  • The Amazon Echo device does record and save conversations even while it’s “asleep.”
  • The data that Amazon has on its users isn’t very secure.

Let’s not forget that it was recently reported that Amazon employees are privy to Alexa conversations. Some of the company’s terms of use allow them to share consumer data with third-party developers. Google, on the other hand, sends the transcribed text of what the device has recorded and not the audio itself.

Either way, it’s pretty clear that these devices do eavesdrop on user conversation. And that’s definitely an area of concern. This is because it’s one of the many ways you may feel like you’re allowing smart devices outsmart you.

Why You Could Be Trading Price for Privacy with Smart TVs

In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission released a report which confirmed that Vizio Smart TV devices spy on their owners.

After this report, most people thought that buying TV sets from other manufacturers protected them from this type of interference. But we now know that all smart TVs feature the same technology, which is known as Automated Content Recognition (ACR). This technology accumulates data on your viewing habits, including the shows and movies you watch. It also includes any DVDs and other content you consume through your smart TV.

It’s important to note that ACR tech is part of the reason why smart TVs are so affordable. By paying a lower price, you’re inadvertently agreeing to share your data.

Even if your TV doesn’t have “smart” functions it can still be affected by this technology. If you use a Chromecast, Apple TV, or Roku device with your TV then you’ll feel the effects of ACR technology. The same goes for anyone that watches content through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and iTunes.

It’s up to you to decide whether or not this is a worthy trade.

Are You Willing to Trade Privacy?

While you might be okay with the notion of Amazon or Google or Microsoft listening in on your life, you must admit that it is somewhat disconcerting. With the way things are looking, your information could easily end up in the wrong hands and if you’re a private person who values their personal safety, then you should give this issue some thought.

Of course, we’re not saying to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While there’s no denying that digital eavesdropping and data theft is a real concern, smart devices have brought us a lot of convenience overall.

How to Outsmart Smart Devices

The reality is that smart devices aren’t going anywhere. Once you familiarize yourself with them, you’ll wonder how you went through life without this technology. They have a way of permeating your life to the point that you just need to look for ways to coexist with them instead of pushing against their existence.

The good news is that organizations such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center are lobbying for better disclosure legislation, especially where smart devices are concerned. However, it’s also your responsibility as a consumer to educate yourself about how your devices work and what kind of information might be collected from you.

Here are some helpful tips and tricks that’ll help you protect your privacy. This way you won’t let smart devices outsmart you.  

1. Disable ACR on Smart TVs

This is the first thing you should do when you purchase a smart TV and it’s so easy that even the NY Times released a tutorial on how to do it. A great way to reinforce this step would be to disconnect your TV from Wi-Fi or internet connectivity.

2. Use Smart Speakers Safely

With regards to smart speakers, use the mute button, disable messaging features and refrain from providing them with your contact list.

3. Turn Off Features You Don’t Need

Just because your washing machine or cooker has Bluetooth connectivity doesn’t mean you should connect it to your phone. In fact, you don’t have to use all the features that come with your devices.

4. Make Sure Your Wi-Fi is Safe

Each Wi-Fi device comes with default credentials. It’s crucial that you change your router’s username and password with stronger and personal versions that are difficult to guess.  

5. Update Software

It’s crucial that you update the operating system manufacturer’s app on your smart devices. This is a great way to stay ahead of the curve and avoid letting smart devices outsmart you.

Do You Feel Safer Now?

The Internet of Things is still a very new phenomenon for most of us. And there’s so much data available on it that it can be confusing at first. You probably don’t even know where to start half the time. But you’ll definitely benefit from staying updated on how to use smart devices in order to protect yourself from possible interference.

If you’re going to connect your devices to Wi-Fi, at least make use of a VPN such as IPVanish. This’ll effectively hide details like your location, browsing history, the credentials you enter while online etc. That means no-one will be able to see what you’re watching, streaming or downloading online.

Did you find this article on how to not let smart devices outsmart you helpful? Let us know in the comments section below!


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