Always listening: How to protect your privacy with voice-enabled devices

A disturbing discovery this week in the tech world: Apple’s group Facetime had a bug that allowed someone to eavesdrop on your conversation.

Apple announced Friday it has fixed the problem. But what about home assistant devices with microphones? Can they listen to you?

In my office here, I have an Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant voice controlled TV remote, Google Chromecast, Amazon Firestick, security cameras and smartphones.

What do they have in common? They are listening to everything I say.

“We see listening microphones everywhere in modern day life, and people may not even be aware that they’re there,” said Morey Haber, CTO of the security firm Beyond Trust.

Haber told me these devices are always listening for the action keyword, which means they’re always listening.

“So if you have a device with always on microphone like a home personal assistant, turning the microphone off will turn off that functionality,” Haber said.

That means no more “Hey Siri”, or “Alexa.”

To turn off Facetime, go to settings and you’ll see the option under “Facetime”, to turn off siri, go to settings, siri and “listen for hey siri”. You can use the side button instead.

On an Alexa device, you can turn off the mic by pressing a button. It won’t listen to anything now unless you get up and press the button again.

“I’d recommend they use the privacy mode or turn off the microphone in cases where there is sensitive dialogue, business meetings or even when there is personal time at home.”

These Amazon Alexa devices have microphone all the around. You know how sensitive they are, they can hear things in other rooms so we have to decide if we want convenience or privacy.

Apple announced Friday the bug was linked to the group Facetime feature on apple’s new software update iOS 12.1.

It will issue a software update to re-enable the feature for users next week.

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