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