Concerns Smart Speakers Are Compiling Profiles On Your Kids

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Sorin Toma
University of NSW, Principal Adviser – Cyber Security
Managing Director – Xpotentia

With rise of Smart Speaker technology such as Amazon’s ‘Alexa’, new research has raised serious questions over how much information on children is being collected, recorded and shared by online companies without parental consent.

Principal Adviser on cyber security at the University of NSW and Managing Director of Xpotentia, Sorin Toma, conducted the research and believes that new Smart Speaker technology, particularly the Alexa unit, are at an ‘infant’ stage in the market with serious issues that need to be addressed.

“The first thing that parents need to understand when using the Alexa unit, is that whenever these devices are on, they are listening.  When you consider that each unit has one account and that critically, the devices do not differentiate between adults and children, there is real cause for concern,” Mr Toma said.

“These devices record and store almost every piece of information spoken aloud while the machine is switched on.  It will then deliver advertising based on an aggregated profile of the account associated with your home, not specific to any particular user.”

“The serious issue this raises is the potential for the units to market products and services to children without parental consent or knowledge.   There is also the potential for inappropriate or adult oriented material being provided to children.”

“This could be through the limited voice advertising ability, but also for example, if a child asks Alexa a question, based on the aggregated profile the unit may come back to that child with ‘answers’ only suitable for an adult,” he said.

“The units are also linked to a laptop or home computer.  If children have access to that computer they can be exposed to marketing based on the Amazon Alexa profile through any social site,” Mr Toma said.

“Furthermore, children may be able to order and buy products and services automatically if a credit card is attached to the account, including through voice activated purchasing.”

Xpotentia’s research also highlights simple steps parents can take to maximise the privacy of information regarding their children in the age of Amazon’s Alexa and other Smart Speaker devices.

“Parents need to be informed consumers. They should understand the risks and become familiar with the setting options for each product.”

“It’s important not to connect any sensitive accounts to any AI platform.  It’s also a good idea to turn Smart Speakers off when not in use and setup a PIN that blocks children from being able to make unauthorised purchases.  It may even be necessary to disable voice purchasing,” Mr Toma said.

“Overall, parents should ask some serious questions when purchasing any sort of AI device that ‘listens’ and records information.  ‘What is the benefit to myself or my family from this product?’ ‘What are the risks? Where can I go to get help if something goes wrong?’” Mr Toma said.

The full report can be view at www.xpotentia.com

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