Hey Google, are my housemates using my smart speaker?

January 28, 2020

Surveys show that consumers are worried that smart speakers are eavesdropping on their conversations and day-to-day lives. Now University of British Columbia researchers have found that people are also concerned about something else: friends, family and others who may have access to these devices.

The team spoke to 26 Canadian adults who used shared smart speakers at home, including Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod. They found that participants not only worried about keeping their data safe from the manufacturer or other entities; they also feared potential misuse of the device from people they actually live with and know.

"They worried that their housemates could order stuff online, overhear private conversations or access other people's reminders, calendars and phone contacts," explained senior author of the study Konstantin Beznosov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering who specializes in cybersecurity at UBC. "Of course, they were aware these actions could well be unintentional--such as a child accidentally using the last-number-dialled feature to call up their parent's employer, for example."

Interestingly, the nature of the concern depended on the participant's "mental model" or technical understanding of how smart speakers work, notes study primary author Yue Huang, a PhD student in electrical and computer engineering.

"Participants who were very familiar with shared smart speakers were more worried about how technology shortcomings could affect the security of their devices," said Huang. "An example is a smart speaker that occasionally fails to distinguish the main user's voice from another, which means it could grant people access to information they shouldn't have."

However, users with more basic knowledge of how smart speakers work were more focused on their housemates' potential actions, and this sometimes meant seeing a threat where there was none.

"One participant who worried his family member could redial a number was unaware the feature was not even available on the device," said Huang, noting that the study is the first to explore these mental models about shared smart speakers and link these models to attitudes.

These results suggest more work is needed to improve consumers' understanding of shared smart speakers and to make the technology more reliable, adds Beznosov.

"One in four U.S. adults and one in five Canadians say they own a smart speaker. People like being able to stream music, obtain weather forecasts, control other smart devices, and get the news with simple voice commands. But since smart speakers are commonly shared among housemates, technology developers should take into account these consumer concerns. And manufacturers should provide more technical support to help users manage their risks."
The study will be presented in April at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Honolulu.

University of British Columbia

Related Technology Articles from Brightsurf:

December issue SLAS Technology features 'advances in technology to address COVID-19'
The December issue of SLAS Technology is a special collection featuring the cover article, ''Advances in Technology to Address COVID-19'' by editors Edward Kai-Hua Chow, Ph.D., (National University of Singapore), Pak Kin Wong, Ph.D., (The Pennsylvania State University, PA, USA) and Xianting Ding, Ph.D., (Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China).

October issue SLAS Technology now available
The October issue of SLAS Technology features the cover article, 'Role of Digital Microfl-uidics in Enabling Access to Laboratory Automation and Making Biology Programmable' by Varun B.

Robot technology for everyone or only for the average person?
Robot technology is being used more and more in health rehabilitation and in working life.

Novel biomarker technology for cancer diagnostics
A new way of identifying cancer biomarkers has been developed by researchers at Lund University in Sweden.

Technology innovation for neurology
TU Graz researcher Francesco Greco has developed ultra-light tattoo electrodes that are hardly noticeable on the skin and make long-term measurements of brain activity cheaper and easier.

April's SLAS Technology is now available
April's Edition of SLAS Technology Features Cover Article, 'CURATE.AI: Optimizing Personalized Medicine with Artificial Intelligence'.

Technology in higher education: learning with it instead of from it
Technology has shifted the way that professors teach students in higher education.

Post-lithium technology
Next-generation batteries will probably see the replacement of lithium ions by more abundant and environmentally benign alkali metal or multivalent ions.

Rethinking the role of technology in the classroom
Introducing tablets and laptops to the classroom has certain educational virtues, according to Annahita Ball, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, but her research suggests that tech has its limitations as well.

The science and technology of FAST
The Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), located in a radio quiet zone, with the targets (e.g., radio pulsars and neutron stars, galactic and extragalactic 21-cm HI emission).

Read More: Technology News and Technology Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.