As law firms urge lawyers to work from home during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, they have been warned that they run the risk of having confidential phone calls with clients being overheard by smart devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Bloomberg reports that as people across the world are forced to work from home due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, a number of surprising issues have arisen. One such issue relates to lawyers who are now dealing with confidential client information from home; many of these lawyers have smart home devices such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home and are now being warned that these devices may be listening in on their conversations.
Mischon de Reya LLP, a UK law firm that famously advised Princess Diana on her divorce and also does corporate law, advised its staff to mute or shut off devices such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s voice assistant when talking about client matters in their home, suggesting not to have the devices in their workspace at all.
The warning from Mishcon includes any kind of visual or voice-enabled devices such as Amazon and Google’s speakers, Ring security cameras, and even baby monitors. Joe Hancock, a partner at Mishcon de Reya who heads the firm’s cybersecurity efforts, stated: “Perhaps we’re being slightly paranoid but we need to have a lot of trust in these organizations and these devices. We’d rather not take those risks.”
Amazon and Google have stated that their devices are designed not record, and store audio only when they detect a wake word to enable listening, but recent testing by Northeastern University and Imperial College London found that these devices can inadvertently activate between 1.5 and 1.9 times per day.
Through 2019, Amazon faced continual bad news about its Alexa-powered devices on the subject of user privacy and security. Reports were published showing that Amazon employees and contractors located in India, Costa Rica, and Romania had ready access to users’ recordings and spent nine hours a day listening to the snippets.
The work is mostly mundane. One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as “Taylor Swift” and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist. Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.
Breitbart News has previously published a guide explaining how to stop Amazon employees from having access to Alexa recordings, however, this does not stop the device from recording users’ daily interactions but rather protects them from being listened to by Amazon employees directly. Read the full guide here.