SPECIAL REPORT: Are your smart devices spying on you? - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

SPECIAL REPORT: Are your smart devices spying on you?

(Source: Candy Rodriguez/KPLC) (Source: Candy Rodriguez/KPLC)
SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) -

Technology has come a long way since the days of dial-up. 

Back then, you had to decide whether you wanted to make a phone call or browse the World Wide Web. 

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Now, many couldn't see themselves without their personal virtual assistants like Apple's Siri. The artificial intelligence, or A.I., made its debut in late 2011, and since then several companies have followed suit with Amazon's Alexa, Windows' Cortana and Google’s Google Assistant.

Most recently, a hands-free option hit the market: Amazon Echo, followed by Google Home, both of which feature artificial intelligence to help with tasks around your home or business.

“Basically, you can use it to connect all of your electronic devices at home from your lighting to your thermostat, your locks and all that home security stuff,” said Billy Bowles, a Geek Squad agent at Best Buy who's been helping curious customers learn about the inconspicuous, but very smart and helpful devices.

“It's the way of the future,” said customer Chris Rook. “It's kind of a thing we have to keep our eye on. It can get too far and too intrusive."

For Rook's family, their home is currently virtual assistant free, but it won't stay like that because he plans to eventually get one, even though he said he has some reservations.

“The A.I. is kind of a scary thing,” he said. “I worry about the malware; it's going to hear what you're saying and I worry about how intrusive."

How intrusive one device can be is a question many have; if you simply Google, "Are Amazon Echo and Google Home spying on me?" hundreds of results pop up.

“Sometimes it just takes up our life,” said young pre-teen Gabby Lafferty, who was with her friend Viviene Chaisson – they said they know a thing or two about the latest technology since they’ve been using them all their lives. However, they still wonder, how much is too much?

“I've heard rumors that apparently the government spies on you,” Chaisson said. “I don't know if that's true or not."

For cybersecurity expert Jeff Moulton that rumor may have some truth to it.

"Convenience trumps privacy and convenience trumps security in almost every facet of our lives today,” said Moulton who is a part of LSU's Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training. “The more we automate the more we connect these 'Internet of things' devices."

He said most of the time people don't even know what they're giving up when they turn on these devices.

“They need to read the terms and conditions that they're signing off,” he said. “Most of the time, we just check the box 'yes' that we accept these terms; we never look through that. What they don't tell you is how they use your data."

And Bowles said he has customers who wonder the same thing.

“What they're leery about is, is it listening all the time and possibly recording them and sending that information to third parties like the NSA or the government or something like that," said Bowles.

Earlier this year, Wikileaks released documents focused on the CIA — revealing many of the agency's hacking abilities.

The documents claimed that by using Apple iPhones, Google Androids, Microsoft's Windows, Samsung smart TVs and other devices the agency is able to listen in on private conversations.

However, there was no mention of Amazon or Google's smart speakers.

But that doesn't stop people from worrying.

“You won't find one in my house or anybody that I love very much,” Moulton said. “Not that they're not good, not that they don't make your life convenient, but I am pretty physically capable to walk over and turn my TV off."

However, if you have a device, Bowles and Moulton both advise on ramping up security.

“If that device is connected to other devices in your house, I pretty much have rule of your roost,” said Moulton.

And protecting your information is the number one thing to do.

“Things you shouldn't say out loud are your passwords, your account information, any bank accounts, login account information,” said Bowles. “You don't actually need to say that to them - they have apps where you can put that in and that information in and that information is sent to a separate server that is tracked by Google and Amazon."

Bowles said safety starts at home.

"The best way to do that is to make sure you have a good strong password on your router and not giving it out to anybody except for your family and close friends,” Bowles said.

And Moulton said you shouldn't name your network so hackers don't target you. 

But not everyone is put off by the devices.

“I'd try it,” Adam Boudreaux “Yeah, I think it would be fun to mess around with and figure out how to use.”

It's proven to be helpful for Marlo Wilson and his family.

“Well, if you have kids you need it,” said Wilson, who added it helps him keep tabs on his children.

“You know when they're home or you know when they forgot something, like if they didn't lock the door or they left the window open it'll tell you,” he said.

Whether you are debating to join others in buying the handy gadget or not, making sure to learn the potential risks associated with any smart device can help you in the long run.

“It's coming regardless, whether you want it or not. It's going to be there,” said Rook. “You can opt in or opt out."

We reached out to several companies to learn more about their privacy policy when it comes to their devices and asked what they do with the data that’s collected.

  • Amazon

“Amazon takes customer privacy seriously and we have taken measures to make Echo secure. These include hardware control via a mute button, disallowing third party application installation on the device, rigorous security review, and encryption of communication between Echo, the Alexa App and Amazon servers.” – Amazon spokesperson

For more information click HERE.

  • Google

"All the devices that come with the Google Assistant are designed with privacy in mind. Google only stores voice-based queries received immediately after recognizing of hotwords “OK Google” or "Hey Google". Hotword detection runs locally on the Google Home device across a short snippet of microphone data. If the hotword is not detected on that short snippet, the snippet is immediately discarded.

If the hotword is recognized the data including the query contents are sent to Google servers for analyzing and storage in personal activity history.Activity history is stored similar to other web activity like search history. Users can delete voice recordings in the setup app or myactivity page.

In regards to ads, we are focused on providing users with the best possible experience with the Google Assistant and don’t have any plans to share right now." – Google spokesperson

  • Apple

To learn more about how Siri works, click HERE

Copyright 2017 KPLC. All rights reserved. 

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