If you’ve ever been slightly paranoid about your smart speaker listening in to your conversation, well it looks like those fears might have a little merit to them. According to a study conducted by Northeastern University, smart speakers accidentally activate up to 19 times and may record for up to 43 seconds of audio.
The word ‘accidentally’ is key as the researchers noted that there were a lot of anecdotal evidence that pointed to smart speakers waking up after hearing a word that sounded a lot like their respective wake words. For example, a word like “seriously” sounds similar to “Siri” a wake word for the Apple HomePod.
The study notes that “there are many other anecdotal reports of everyday words in normal conversation being mistaken for wake words. For the past six months, our team has been conducting research to go beyond anecdotes through the use of repeatable, controlled experiments that shed light on what causes voice assistants to mistakenly wake up and record.”
Researchers tested five types of speakers. This included the first-gen Google Home Mini, a first-gen Apple HomePod, the Harman Kardon Invoke, as well as the second and third-gen Amazon Echo Dots. the devices were then placed in a box and monitored using a camera. Speech was simulated by playing 125 hours of Netflix content from a variety of themes and genres. The test was then multiplied various times to understand which non-wake words were constantly leading to activation.
There was some good news for those who are slightly paranoid about there privacy as the study found no evidence that the devices constantly recorded conversations. However, it did notice that the average rate of activations ver device is between 1.5 to 19 times a day. The HomePod and Invoke activated the most, followed by the second-gen Echo Dot, Google Home Mini and the third-gen Echo Dot. It was also noted that the second-gen Echo Dot and Invoke devices have the longest activations at 20-43 seconds, while the Home pod and other Echo devices, over half the activations, were for six seconds or more.
The researchers also note that it will continue to update their page with more details as they emerge.