Be careful what you wish for…

Posted on: 20 January 2017
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This month Graeme Wolfe, our Information and IT Security Officer, looks at ‘smart home assistants’ and how to ensure you set your default accounts correctly, so that your ‘wished for’ list does not come true with all sorts of unexpected consequences.

You may have seen the launch last year of ‘smart home assistants’ from Amazon (Echo) and Google (Home) which employ Artificial Intelligence to listen out for your instructions and then act upon them. Saying “play this piece of music” or “remind me I have a meeting this afternoon” is fairly simple, but they can also order things online for you and that is where the problems can start.

An example of this, was to the surprise of one owner of a ‘smart home assistant’ when a dolls house arrived from Amazon that they hadn’t ordered. It turned out that their young daughter had ‘wished’ for one and the home assistant picked this up and dutifully placed an order for one. Later on, this made it to the local news in San Diego and when the TV presenter broadcast the words the child had spoken, there were ‘smart home assistants’ all over the local area that heard the request from the television and went and ordered up dolls houses as well!

It turns out that these ‘smart home assistants’ are unable to discriminate between your voice, that of your children, guests and even those coming from television or radio. The default setting on the Amazon device is to enable voice purchases. If you own one of these devices, be sure to go into the settings and make sure that you have changed the defaults to ones that suit your particular needs.

Graeme Wolfe

Information and IT Security Officer

19/01/17