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Google Home Hub

Google have ac­knowl­edged the fears users have about al­low­ing cam­eras in their homes by omit­ting one from the gadget, rul­ing out video calls. The built-in Google As­sis­tant will re­spond to your ques­tions about the weather, restau­rants and so on via its screen. It also works as a con­trol cen­tre for smart de­vices you may have around your home – nearly 5,000 are com­pat­i­ble.

Ama­zon Echo Show

This sec­ond it­er­a­tion fea­tures a 10in screen for stream­ing video but, at present, video calls are only pos­si­ble with other Echo Show own­ers. Ama­zon boasts that the de­vice has eight mi­cro­phones and “farfield tech­nol­ogy” so Alexa can recog­nise your voice while mu­sic is play­ing – you may not con­sider this a plus point.

“The data they’re col­lect­ing al­lows them to de­liver more tar­geted ser­vices and to im­prove the qual­ity of the ser­vices you get from the vir­tual as­sis­tant and the de­vices,” says Thomas. The level of gran­u­lar­ity these com­pa­nies get about how we live our lives by in­stalling de­vices in our homes gives the man­u­fac­tur­ers an un­par­al­leled in­sight into our habits and our pref­er­ences, mak­ing it even eas­ier to sell us their prod­ucts. For Google and Face­book, that’s act­ing as a bro­ker to third-party com­pa­nies; for Ama­zon, a mas­sive global mar­ket­place, the com­pany can sell to us di­rectly.

“It’s very clear what they’re try­ing to do: sell you more stuff through third-party use of your own in­for­ma­tion,” says Alexan­dra De­schamps-Son­sino, author of Smarter Homes: How Tech­nol­ogy Will Change Your Home Life. Thomas agrees. “Once you get peo­ple used to the fact they don’t have to pick up a phone or a tablet to buy some­thing, that will start to feed in to other ways that Ama­zon, par­tic­u­larly, as a re­tailer, is look­ing to make the way we buy things more seam­less.” It’s al­ready work­ing: re­search by Con­sumer In­tel­li­gence Re­search Part­ners, a mar­ket re­search firm, shows that the av­er­age Amer­i­can Echo owner spends $1,700 on Ama­zon per year, com­pared $1,000 for a bog stan­dard, non Echoown­ing Ama­zon cus­tomer.

The sec­ond ques­tion I asked the small screen in the cor­ner of my room was: “What are your pri­vacy set­tings?” The response, from the dis­em­bod­ied voice of a woman in­side my Home Hub di­rected me to its on­line pri­vacy pol­icy, a web­site I didn’t visit. In response to the ques­tion: “Are you al­ways lis­ten­ing?”, the Home Hub ex­plained that it be­gins record­ing af­ter hear­ing “OK Google”, then sends that record­ing to Google.

I next asked: “What hap­pens to that record­ing?” Home Hub’s response? “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help. But I’m learn­ing more ev­ery day.”

“A lit­tle dose of scep­ti­cism and cau­tion is al­ways a good idea, es­pe­cially when a rel­a­tively new prod­uct, sys­tem or ser­vice is in­tro­duced,” says Dr Lukasz Ole­jnik, an in­de­pen­dent cy­ber­se­cu­rity and pri­vacy re­searcher and ad­viser, who looks at the se­cu­rity of such smart de­vices. “In prin­ci­ple, users have full con­trol over the voice record­ings and can also re­quest their dele­tion at any time. How­ever, past ex­am­ples demon­strated that Key­word de­ter­mi­na­tions from voice data

This sys­tem would by­pass the need to say “Alexa”, al­low­ing Ama­zon to listen for in­for­ma­tion con­stantly – then tai­lor prod­uct sug­ges­tions based on what you say near its de­vice. The patent de­scribes how au­dio of you is con­verted to text, al­low­ing Ama­zon to main­tain its prom­ise that it does not store voice record­ings – but still keep hold of what you have said.

Pri­vacy-aware per­son­alised con­tent for the smart home

This patent would an­a­lyse footage of your home and link that to your search his­tory to pro­mote more tar­geted mar­ket­ing. If you’ve searched for gigs from a band and as­sis­tants might record in response to pretty ran­dom words.”

It’s for that rea­son that De­schamps-Son­sino doesn’t have a smart home hub in her house. “My name is Alexan­dra; ev­ery time a friend talks to me and has an Ama­zon Echo with Alexa in their home, it wakes up,” she says. Her friends will un­plug their Ama­zon Echo when­ever they’re not us­ing

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