Q I’d like to buy a smart speaker but I’m para­noid about hack­ers.

T3 - - Smart Home Surgery -

A Alex Cox replies: Smart speak­ers do lis­ten, but they don’t lis­ten to every­thing.

To save power (and per­haps your blushes) they wait for their trig­ger word, and nei­ther Google As­sis­tant nor Alexa make any record of what’s be­ing said un­til they have been di­rectly ac­ti­vated.

At that point, things get a tad fishier. Delv­ing into your Google or Alexa record, you’ll find an ar­chive of every­thing that’s been asked of those as­sis­tants, of­ten with record­ings of the spe­cific au­dio that trig­gered those ac­tions. This can be handy if you’re hav­ing trou­ble get­ting an as­sis­tant to com­ply with your de­mands, but it’s equally wor­ry­ing to some, so make sure you have those ac­counts fully locked down with a strong pass­word and lay­ers of au­then­ti­ca­tion.

Ev­ery smart speaker worth its salt has an off switch for its mi­cro­phone, which in the­ory dis­ables au­dio in­ter­ac­tion. This is far from con­ve­nient if you’re go­ing to use a smart as­sis­tant reg­u­larly, but use­ful if you’d rather avoid the po­ten­tial of ac­ci­den­tally trig­ger­ing a re­sponse.

If you want a more ob­vi­ous marker that your speaker’s ears are shut, Pure’s Dis­covR (£ 229) can be closed. Just push down the top to dis­con­nect the mic and bury Alexa’s nosy head in the sand.

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