AI in the home: smart devices do’s and don’ts


First published on Compare The Cloud, July 2020 

The growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies in our homes have been increasing exponentially in the past few years, and with a large number of the UK workforce embracing the pandemic-imposed working-from-home culture, for many of us our homes have become our office.

In this article, we consider the impact of this shift from a data perspective with a particular focus on smart speakers and other devices containing “virtual assistant” technology.

Know your devices

Smart speakers, such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home, are becoming mainstream in homes around the country. Many owners of smart speakers are by now aware that these devices are always “listening” for their “wake word” – which enables the device to listen to user queries and commands.

The reality is that smart speakers are most likely not the only technology in your home which are “listening” for a “wake word” – mobile devices, tablets and computers also often have built-in virtual assistants, and it is becoming increasingly common for other devices (for example, TVs) to integrate virtual assistants too. You should become familiar with the smart tech in your home.

Mute voice-input

A smart speaker may inadvertently start recording confidential conversations if it hears its wake command, and therefore ensuring that voice-input is muted can be effective in preventing this.

However, in line with our recommendation above about getting to know your devices, remember it is not only smart speakers which may constantly be in “listening” mode. If you are having confidential conversations – analyse whether it would be best practice to mute voice-input on each of these devices.

Wear headsets

It might not always be practical for you to mute voice-input on all of your devices. Consider whether there are other ways to prevent data from being heard, and potentially recorded, by smart devices. For example, wearing a headset on your calls may result in only your voice being heard by your devices, thereby minimising the amount of data which would be recorded – it might even have the added benefit of clearer audio!

Change your “wake word”

Some smart speakers allow you to change the “wake word.” If you are finding that your device is constantly “waking” unintentionally, think about changing the wake word to something that is less likely to be used in every-day life.

Know your suppliers

Many, if not all, of the large tech companies producing smart speakers will use state-of-the-art technology to protect any data they collect – but even the best security systems can be vulnerable to rogue attacks. There are also a number of start-up companies which are developing exciting tech to be used in the home. Whatever company you are purchasing your smart tech from, you should ensure you know and trust them and understand their data policies.

In the UK, tech companies should all have readily available privacy policies which will explain how your data will be used. Although these can be relatively lengthy documents, most should be written in a way which is easy-to-follow and if you are concerned by what data a company may store and how they may use your data, this can be a good place to start.

If you are an employer, consider how you can assist your employees develop sensible working practices at home which will prevent the unintentional recording of data by third-parties.

Regardless of your level of trust of the tech companies who store this data, once the data exists, risks associated with that data exist. The most effective method of managing this risk is to ensure that confidential conversations are never inadvertently recorded by smart devices in the first place.

As many of us are in the long haul for working from home, these tips can be helpful to reduce the risk of confidential conversations being recorded by your devices and, where data is recorded, understanding how that data might be used.