Google Home Through the Fire

Updated: Feb 19, 2019

A few weeks ago, we wrote a blog that had to do with the scary privacy facts behind the Amazon Alexa. Now, it is Google’s turn to go through the fire. Within the last ten years, Google, Apple, and Amazon have produced a “home device.” They are designed to be little technological assistants that you give an order, and it obeys. “Ok, Google, what is the weather today?” “Alexa, tell me a joke.” “Siri, order me some more hair gel.” However, as convenient as this may be, do we ever stop to consider the risks associated with owning and using such a device? Have you ever paused in the middle of a sensitive conversation with the thought that your device was listening? Many of us have grown up in a world in which technology was an integral part; thus, we may not stop to think about its presence in our lives. It just is. While there is nothing wrong with using technology (after all, that is what it was designed for), not being aware of it can compromise on privacy and security. So, without further ado, let us scrutinize the Google Home device.

Now, I, personally, am an owner of an Amazon Alexa (not because of some loyalty to Amazon but just because I received it as a gift), and I absolutely love it. Now the extent to which I use it is somewhat limited, and while I do not mind its presence in my home, I am not one to trust everything to technology. Alexa has issues, just as Google Home has issues. That being said, what I know about the Google Home device specifically is rather limited. However, through research I have become increasingly aware of how similar all of these devices are, and how universal (for lack of a better word) are the privacy issues surrounding home devices in general.

The first big red flag for the Google Home device is that it is linked to every other Google account you may have under that same email address. So, if you have logged into Google Drive, Photos, Gmail, Music, or Google search history with that same email address, you have shared that information with your Google home device. While this may not seem like a big deal, think about the fact that 2017 was dubbed “the year of the data breach.” Now imagine that all the personal and sensitive information you have saved on all of those features is breached. That information includes your passwords, Social Security number, credit card and banking information, search history, and a number of other things. The simple solution to this is simply to put your Google home device under a different Google account. Just have one email address specifically for use with the home device.

Just as with the Amazon Alexa, there are features on your Google Home device that can protect the sensitive information stored on it. With the Google Home that protection comes in the form of voice matching. The Google device can be programmed  to respond to your voice and your voice alone when accessing sensitive information. This rather helpful feature can help prevent your precocious three-year-old from realizing that all they have to say is “Ok, Google, order more gel pens,” and the gel pens show up on the door step. Not only that, but it can keep dishonest visitors from taking advantage of the sensitive information you have stored on your home device.

On that same note, managing your old recordings can be invaluable. Your recordings will contain every sensitive piece of information you have ever shared with the device. All someone has to do is look at your app or find your log in credentials to take advantage of that gold mine of information. Try to delete any sensitive data from the account. While this may come with a warning that doing so will degrade your home device experience, it is far better to be safe.

Use two-factor authentication! Do not just use it on the home device, either. Use it on everything it is offered for. It was designed in the first place to be more secure, and the more security the better. The small inconvenience of taking the extra five seconds to use the two-factor authentication is far better than the hours and years it may cost you when your identity is stolen from not having your device properly secured.

Finally, mute the machine when you are not using it. I know that its constancy in the home makes it difficult to remember when you’re having a sensitive conversation, but you know it is listening. After all, have you ever said something not remotely close to the wake word, and it responds? Alexa is the worst for this, and Google is not much better.

Home devices are entertaining, fun little additions to the family home, but there are real security risks associated with them. Being aware of those and taking these simple, small steps to help make the device more secure will not be something you regret. The time, energy, and money saved by taking those steps now is so much better than waiting for your identity to be stolen and dealing with that drama down the road.  

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