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I am interested in getting a Smart Home system with a good voice assistant, but my wife refuses to allow a voice assistant like Google Home or Amazon Alexa because she does not want ANY recordings from our home being stored in the cloud.

For example, this link discusses how Alexa stores requests in the cloud for machine learning of the Alexa system.

Is the Amazon Echo 'always listening' and sending data to the cloud?

Is there any option here? Is there a smart home system that does not store recordings off-site? Any good options to ensure privacy and security with these systems?

She's also worried about the ability of the government to eavesdrop. The above link quotes Intellihub: "Echo ... can be easily hacked and used by government agencies like the FBI to listen in on conversations."

One respondent suggests using the Mute on the bundled remote when not in use: is that sufficient, or could a good hack bypass the Mute request?

Bottom-line: do I have to give up some Privacy & Security to get a Smart Home system?

  • 1
    With regard to the mute button, take a look at the question: Is the Echo mute button a hardware switch? – Aurora0001 Nov 17 '18 at 17:38
  • You have accepted an answer, but I think it would help if you elaborated on what your privacy and security concerns are. Are you concerned about government(s) getting your data, companies abusing your data, data leaking to hackers, other? Not mentioned yet is Apple Siri: Apple listens for "Hey Siri" on-device, and all cloud processing is associated with a Siri-only identifier not tied to your main account. And, you can get a new identifier any time you want, albeit with some setup friction each time. Very different approach from Google or Amazon. – pseudon Nov 23 '18 at 5:16
  • The main Privacy concern is the storage of all requests in the cloud (thus available to vendor staff and upon subpoena request to government), and the main Security concern is the recognized 'hack-ability' of these devices to be used for eavesdropping, either by hackers or government agents. Subpoena requests for government access to stored requests is already happening, and highly likely the eavesdropping is also occurring. – Scott Duncan Nov 26 '18 at 21:00
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Keeping the device muted when not in use removes a huge amount of the benefit of a voice assistant, if you have to get up, walk across the room and unmute it to use it you might as well just install the app (Alexa app or an Android with Google Assistant) on your phone and only launch it when you want it.

If you want a dedicated device that doesn't use the cloud then there are projects to roll your own (e.g. http://jasperproject.github.io/) but remember that the benefit of the cloud are:

  • The huge amount of training data which means that it's voice matching gets better and better all the time. A offline version will only be as good as the initial model it is loaded with at the time it's deployed.
  • Other people write all (most) of the integrations/skills for you.
  • I'm liking your idea of having an app on my phone & launching it whenever it is needed. How well would that work to control Smart Home systems (Music, Security, HVAC, etc.)? Or, a way to turn on/off/mute the voice assistant with a phone app? – Scott Duncan Nov 19 '18 at 21:32
  • You can't control the mic on/off on physical devices from the apps (and by the time you'd turned it on you might as well just use the app), but control of devices generally works. – hardillb Nov 19 '18 at 21:46
  • OK, so as of today, sounds like the options are: 1) Use an off-the shelf Voice Assistant & give up some Privacy, or 2) Use a phone app to control everything, or 3) 'roll your own' off-line Voice Assistant to get Privacy & Security. That 3rd option sounds like a Business Opportunity for someone. – Scott Duncan Nov 21 '18 at 12:41
  • And understand that you've probably given up most of that privacy just by owning a modern phone – hardillb Nov 21 '18 at 13:59

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