Ashwin Machanavajjhala warns of the dangers of smart tech in the home

Speaking at a science conference in Washington, former government data adviser Professor Ashwin Machanavajjhala warned of the dangers of smart tech in the home, according to the Mirror. ‘Smart meters can tell you whether an individual is at home and what appliances are used,’ he said.

‘Smart light bulbs and WiFi access points can reveal occupancy. Social relationships between building occupants can be inferred by analysing sensor logs. ‘Smart TVs and voice assistants can pick up living room chatter, some of which may be shared with third parties.’

Professor Machanavajjhala said he refuses to have a smart speaker in his home for fear of privacy violations and grey areas over who your data is shared with.

‘I’m waiting for privacy protections to come in. We need to know what is being collected about us, whether or not we have anything to hide.’

‘Once data is on the cloud users lose control over it. There is little transparency about who it is shared with.’

Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president, said last week that there is ‘no limit’ to how Amazon is storing and listening to private conversations, adding that these recordings ‘could potentially be used against you in a court of law or for other purposes.’

Amazon came under scrutiny last year when an Echo device recorded a family’s conversation and sent the audio file to a person in their contact list.

When contacted by the family, Amazon said it takes privacy ‘very seriously,’ but downplayed the incident as an ‘extremely rare occurrence.’

Meanwhile a report by UK lawmakers have accused Facebook of ‘intentionally and knowingly’ violating data privacy and competition laws.

The UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said that companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world.

A spokeperson for Amazon told MailOnline: ‘At Amazon customer trust is of the utmost importance, and we take privacy seriously.

‘By default, Echo devices are designed to only capture audio after it detects the wake word. Only after the wake word is detected does audio get streamed to the cloud, and the stream closes immediately after Alexa processes a customer request.

‘No audio is stored or saved on the device. Customers can also review and delete voice recordings in the Alexa App or by visiting amazon.co.uk/privacy.’

MailOnline has also contacted Google and Apple for comment but neither have replied.

WHAT QUESTIONS WON’T ALEXA ANSWER FOR CHILDREN?

Amazon has released a child-friendly feature for its Alexa smart assistant called FreeTime.

Once activated, the device will answer questions on sensitive topics differently to palm-off curious children.

Alexa changes its answers to questions poised by all members of the household once the feature is turned on, regardless of age.

ALEXA, WHERE DO BABIES COME FROM?

Regular: ‘Babies are made through the process of reproduction.’

Child version: ‘People make people, but how they’re made would be a better question for a grown-up.’

ALEXA, WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DIE?

Regular: ‘Sorry, I’m not sure.’

Child version: ‘That’s a hard question to answer. If you’re wondering about this, you should ask someone in your family, a teacher, or a friend who you know and trust.’

ALEXA, IS SANTA CLAUS REAL?

Regular: ‘Santa makes a lot of people ho-ho-hopeful for a happy holiday, and I definitely believe in that.’

Child version: ‘Just check if the cookies you set out for him are gone Christmas morning.’

ALEXA, WHAT IS MARIJUANA?

Regular: ‘Marijuana is usually defined as a strong-smelling plant whose dried leaves can be smoked for a pleasant effect or pain reduction or, alternatively, the most commonly used illicit drug; considered a soft drug, it consists of the dried leaves of the hemp plant; smoked or chewed for euphoric effect.’

Child version: ‘I am not able to answer that.’

ALEXA, WHO IS STORMY DANIELS?

Regular: ‘Stormy Daniels is an adult film actress from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.’

Child version: ‘Sorry, I don’t know that.’

ALEXA, WHY DO I HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL?

Regular: ‘Hmmm, I don’t know that one.’

Child version: Same answer.

ALEXA, PLEASE TELL ME WHO THE PRESIDENT IS.

Regular: ‘The United States’ president is Donald Trump.’

Child version: ‘The United States’ president is Donald Trump. By the way, thanks for asking so nicely.’

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