Security: Should You Bring Alexa and Google Home for the Holidays?


If you've been on the internet lately, you've likely seen Spotify's most recent promotion. Every premium subscriber--well, almost all of them-- are eligible to receive a free Google Home device. However, as we mentioned in our last blog, these devices may not be up to grade in terms of security, positing some difficult questions. What's more valuable? Convenience or privacy?

The "Internet of Things" has exploded with the rise of smart devices. Alexa, Ring, Nest, and Google Home devices have become ubiquitous, and to their credit, have made life easier. I have an Amazon Echo Dot. Alexa is awesome. I can listen to the weather while I'm getting ready in the morning, catch up on podcasts while I'm making a cup of coffee, and play Jeopardy when I run out of things to do. I can even check Aussie Rules Football scores because why wouldn't you if you could? I love it. But the device became a security threat the moment I took it out of the box. It's vulnerable, and hackers can certainly circumvent the protections Amazon has deployed. They can then overhear whatever details you happen to disclose while they listen. If I talk on the phone with my bank near my device, it could hear my password or pin. That PII could potentially be used in phishing scams-- all without you leaving the house.

Obviously these smart devices will have constantly updated security, so let's be generous and assume that Amazon and Google can keep up with the hackers. You're not in the clear yet. You see, these devices come at a cost. The Google Home you got from Spotify may be free, but it's worth more to Google to have it in your home than the loss they take producing it. The device collects your data, and Google can use that how it sees fit. Google is already doing this every time you use Chrome, so maybe this isn't concerning to you, but with the advent of legislation like GDPR and CCPA, more and more people are asking for control of the data they produce. You may not be asking for your data, but somebody is.

This is the compromise we all have to make. What's more important-- convenience or privacy? There's not necessarily a wrong choice. It's just dependent on what kind of sacrifices you deem are important or not. Security is more than firewalls and malware. It also encompasses the concessions we make each day to live in a more convenient world. So should Google Home come home with you? The choice is yours, but take heed that the choice matters.

Tucker Partridge is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, and a newly minted Bay Area resident. He is a professional marketing associate, a semi-professional comedian, and an amateur trivia enthusiast.