Google and Amazon, being the most prominent manufacturers of Smart Speakers, both utilize the same approach monetizing their products, which is gathering and selling personal data. In addition to your name, age and email-address, they also gather and store metadata about the way you use their products. This includes your location, the IP-address of your device, the usage patterns of your device and which services you interact with. Here is a detailed list of data collected by Amazon and Google.
Additionally, every voice command is being recorded and stored as an audio file and a transcript. It is important to note that the terms of services define which data is collected and for what reason. Since these terms can be changed by the companies without further notice, the data collected by them might also change. Furthermore, other Smart Speaker companies might gather and store different data. In cases where third party providers, like Spotify or a news channel, are involved in the interaction, your data might be shared with them. More information about that can be found here.
Your data is being recorded by the Smart Speaker and sent to the manufacturers’ data centers which are located all over the world. Which data center holds your data is dependent on your location and the internet connection your device uses. Each data center holds hundreds of server dedicated to storing and accessing the data gathered by the products of the manufacturer. The video below gives an interesting insight into the infrastructure that is needed to run such centers.
The monetization of their products defines the way both Amazon and Google handle your personal data. Apart from the need to understand the usage patterns of their devices to fix bugs or develop new features, both companies rely on your data to be profitable. Understanding your interests and preferences allows them to supply advertising firms with the relevant target group to maximize the impact of their advertisements. The higher the accuracy of an advertisement in terms of reaching the target audience, the higher the income generated for the advertising firm. This in turn allows the manufacturer companies to demand more money when advertising through their service and therefore generating more income on their end.
One more important point to mention is that your data is stored indefinitely. The only way for you to delete your data is by using the appropriate privacy controls found in the settings of the companion app or on their website. However, even then they cannot promise to be able to delete all your data since it is stored in a variety of different locations. Also some information needs to be kept for legal reasons, such as a receipt for a purchase you made using your Smart Speaker.
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.