Smart Devices: Convenient, Helpful, Fun. Oh Yeah, And Possibly Breaching Confidentiality.
18 April 2022
Taft Stettinius & Hollister
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Whether you are an attorney advising clients, a medical
professional treating patients via telemedicine, or anyone else
working remotely, your second workplace or office might be
providing more than just convenience. If you have a smart home
device, such as one of the many varieties now available from
companies like Google (Home/Nest), Amazon (Alexa), Microsoft
(Cortana), or Apple (Siri), your remote work discussions (and
conversations in general) may be less private than you realize.
While convenient and sometimes helpful, these devices might be
creating a record of more than your favorite songs and compromising
your patient’s, client’s, or company’s confidential
First, it is important to note that these devices are
always passively listening to their environment in order
to respond to their “wake” word, i.e. “Alexa”
for Amazon’s Echo device. Further, these devices can and do activate inadvertently as they
“hear” sounds that are similar to their designated wake
words or when their wake words occur in songs or television shows
(South Park famously pranked
millions of users in 2017 when characters on the show addressed
their own devices, thereby activating their real-world
Second, when these devices are activated, whether intentionally
or by accident, a recording is made and stored by the device maker
of everything the device “heard” while active. These
recordings can be tied to names, account numbers, and even precise location data depending
on each device’s configuration and manufacturer. Not only are
these recordings stored outside of your custody, they can be:
- reviewed by employees or contractors of each device maker;
- subjected to subpoenas or court orders and used in legal proceedings (recordings
and other user-generated information from Zoom or Microsoft Teams can also be
- accidentally sent to other users or contacts;
- used to send you targeted ads; and
- vulnerable to cyberattacks on company servers.
So what to do?
- Do I really need this device in here? Decide
if you really need that smart device in your home office space. Or,
could you live with it being moved to your kitchen or shut off
- Exercise choice and control. If you do choose
to keep your smart device around areas in which you wouldn’t
like recordings made, you can adjust the privacy settings for each
account associated with your smart devices to prevent recording, as
well as review and delete recordings
Below are links to instructions on how to access these privacy
At a minimum, all businesses should educate employees on the
risks posed by smart home devices and update any work from home
policies to ensure that the devices present in remote work settings
are not inadvertently compromising company or client data.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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