Today, we live in a world where everything is technologically advanced. Our homes and even our cars are becoming self-sufficient, capable of learning our environment and habits to adjust to our needs. But, did you know that some of the devices we incorporate in our lives are capable of spying on us? It’s not just smartphones or smartwatches, but devices as simple as a Roomba are capable of learning things and sharing the information with multiple devices. Here, we have collected 10 such devices, that you won’t believe can actually spy on you.
Today, every home is equipped with either Amazon Alexa or The Google Assistant. While we think that our conversations and commands are private within our homes, reports show otherwise. Earlier this year, Bloomberg revealed that Amazon hires thousands of people around the world, whose main job is to listen to conversations and commands that are recorded by Alexa. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ from homes, offices and public places. The recordings are then analyzed, transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software to supposedly “help eliminate software gaps”.
This however, does not mean that your conversation is private. According to one worker, the device once recorded a woman singing in the shower and someone screaming for help. Two workers once heard upsetting recordings, which they reported to their higher officials. The officials however, decided that it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere. While Amazon explains that the data is analyzed anonymously, the recordings do contain the user’s first name, account number or device information, which is enough to track someone. (source)
2. Robotic vacuums
Robotic vacuums can be convenient as they are capable of traversing through your house and picking up accumulated dust. While the devices can be helpful in keeping our house clean, they do raise privacy concerns. For instance, Google is working with iRobot to map the inside of your home and then share the data with smart devices. The iRobot i7+ is designed to create maps of the inside of people’s homes as it travels around. Once the data is collected, the companies intend to share that data with other smart devices. While Google assures us that there’s nothing to worry about sharing our information among multiple devices, it does raise some concerns.
Another Chinese-made robotic vacuum named Dongguan Diqee 360 has Wi-Fi and built-in night vision that is capable of viewing 360-degrees. While the company is not collecting any information or viewing the insides of their customers homes, if a hacker manages to get their hands on the device, they could use it gain incriminating information against a person. (source)
Most cars manufactured today come with an Event Data Recorder or EDR. The module constantly monitors vehicle operating conditions such as engine speed, vehicle speed, percent throttle, braking, road conditions, the drivers preferred route and so on. The EDR also records the last seconds before a collision, which can be later analyzed by the manufacturer to determine whether there was human error involved.
Automakers also use the data to study the behavior of drivers as well as incidents to make changes to their future products. In a case where an incident involves authorities, manufacturers can share the information about your driving style, which can be used against you in court. While it’s not clear whether all cars are equipped with the EDR system, the NHTSA estimates that about 64% of 2005 models or older have the devices. The best way to know if your car has an EDR is to check the owner’s manual. (source 1, 2)
Unlike the olden days, toys today are technologically advanced. Most toy manufacturers embed special micro-chips that picks up the user’s habit in order to make it more efficient. However, one of the biggest concerns are toys that have bluetooth devices and are capable of connecting to the server to upload the user experience. In 2017, a German watchdog group found that the toy called My Friend Cayla could actually be a spy. According to the group, the talking doll with embedded smart technology was gathering personal data and uploading it to the server.
The manufacturer promised that it maintains “tight controls” over the data collected from users but does not promise “absolute security” of data such as names, personal address, email or zip code. According to another report, any device with bluetooth capability could easily connect to the doll within a radius of 33 feet and listen to the user who is playing with it. (source 1, 2)
Yes, something as small as a webcam can be utilized to collect private data, but there’s a simple solution to stop it from happening to you. Use a piece of electrical tape, post it note, or band-aid to cover your webcam when not in use, so that no unauthorized person can see what you are doing. FBI Director James Comey and many others are known to use the tape tactic, which is a “basic security practice”. Studies show that hackers have been gaining access to webcams and recording videos without the user being aware. Once the data is collected, they are then using it to force the user to pay up if the recording is to be destroyed. The most effective and the cheapest way to protect yourself is to use a simple tape that blocks any light from entering the lens. (source 1, 2)
6. Smartwatches and fitness trackers
In May of 2018, the security firm Kaspersky warned users that smartwatches and fitness trackers were actually spying on them. According to the security firm, the devices are using ‘behavioral profiling’, which could be used to identify a person from millions. The Russian company also discovered that smartwatches and fitness trackers were using their silent accelerometer and gyroscope signals, and transforming them into unique datasets, which can only be associated with one device owner.
If the data is misused, sensitive information such as PIN numbers, passwords and passphrases can be identified with 80-90% accuracy. Since we have our own style of movements, the internal accelerometer and gyroscope can easily record the pattern at which we are entering passcodes. So, if you are someone who uses a smartwatch more often than others, make sure to enter PIN numbers or passwords with the other hand. (source)
A toothbrush was once nothing but a plastic rod with some bristles, which was used to clean our teeth. Today, they are mechanical, with moving bristles and some even allowing you to connect to your iOS or Android devices to record your hygiene habits. Oral B’s smart toothbrush however, goes the next level since it allows your dentist to spy on you. Their new app controlled Bluetooth 4.0 toothbrush, not only makes you brush your teeth properly, but also sends the information to your dentist. Each brush stroke is detected and the collected data is sent to the dentist, who then provides you with real-time guidance. While the company’s aim is to improve your oral health, it does raise some privacy concerns. (source)
A team of Israeli scientists have come up with a piece of code that is capable of recording sound, even if a device is not equipped with a microphone. The code rather, converts a headphone into a makeshift microphone, then re-purposes the speakers in earbuds or headphones to detect vibrations in air, which is then converted to electromagnetic signals. The piece of code called “Speake(a)r,” just shows that even if a user completely removes or disables the device’s microphone, the device can still be used to listen to conversations. (source)
9. Home security cameras
People choose to equip their homes with security cameras since it provides them with a sense of protection. Being able to view your surroundings from within your home gives some form of comfort. However, there are growing concerns of hackers obtaining access to security cameras. One of the famous cases occurred earlier this year in January when a hacker managed to get into a family’s Nest security system and use it to have conversations with their toddler.
The unidentified man was also able to control the home’s temperature and was viewing the family’s activities for months before the flaw was discovered. Although Nest security systems admitted that the family was being monitored for a while, they did not divulge for how long. Experts suggest to use two-factor authentication, so that if anyone tries to gain access to your security system, you will receive a code on your phone or e-mail; which also alerts you of unidentified activity. (source)
10. LED Lights
Believe it or not, we are so technically advanced today that authorities are capable of watching us with the help of simple LED lights. A new surveillance system inside Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport contains 171 LED fixtures that uses an array of sensors and eight video cameras around the terminal to collect and feed data into a software. The software then analyzes to see how long the waiting lines are, can recognize license plates and is even capable of identifying suspicious activity. Port authorities can use the data to detect possible crimes or even provide it to authorities upon request. (source 1, 2)