Smart Speaker manufacturers, like Google or Amazon want to understand how their products are being used. This is why they programmed their devices to gather and store information about you as a user. An example for that would be Amazon or Google knowing your name, your age and your email address. This is because you entered that information when you first created an account on their platform. In addition to that they also gather data about the technical details of how you interact with their product. The Smart Speaker sends them information about where it is located and how it is connected to the internet.
Everytime you talk to the speaker, it remembers it. This means that it is saving a recording of your voice. It also creates a written “copy” of the things you said, called a transcript. If you are interested to learn more about what kind of data the manufacturers store about you, you can find detailed lists here for Amazon and Google.
As every big company, Google and Amazon have certain rules about what data they are storing about you and how they are doing it. These are the so-called terms of services and you need to accept them when you want to use one of their products. Keep in mind that they are changed regularly. This also means that the way the devices handle your data also changes every now and then. Lastly, there are also cases where other companies are involved in the interaction with your device. One example is when you ask the Speaker to play your music from Spotify. In this case your data is handled a little differently but you can read all about it here.
All the data mentioned before is not stored on the Smart Speaker itself. The device uses the internet connection to send all the relevant information about to the manufacturers’ data centers. You can imagine them as a big room with hundreds of computers that all store data the way your computer stores your files. Since Amazon and Google have customers all over the world they also have different data centers that are located in different regions in the world. If you want to see what these data centers look like, you can watch the video below.
As already mentioned above, your data is stored by the manufacturers so they can understand how their products are used and who uses them. One reason why they need this information is so they can improve their products. The second reason is that they need it to make money. Google and Amazon use the information they have about you to create targeted advertisements. This means that you might see different advertisements than your friends or family because you have different interests. The more information the companies can gather about you, the more accurate they can show these advertisements. And the more accurate the advertisement that you are shown is, the more likely you are to buy the advertised product or service, which ultimately means more income for Google and Amazon.
One more important thing to keep in mind is that your data is being stored in the data centers indefinitely. This means it will never be deleted by the companies themselves. However, you have the ability to make them delete it by using the the appropriate privacy controls. You can find these controls in either the companion apps, like the Alexa app on your smartphone, or on the websites of the manufacturers.
It’s so cheap to store all data. It’s cheaper to keep it than to delete it. And that means people will change their behavior because they know anything they say online can be used against them in the future.
Mikko Hypponen, security and privacy expert.