Proposed Law Would Prevent Alexa from Eavesdropping

A proposed California state law would require users to opt-in before tech companies could store their voice recordings. The bill, entitled the “Anti-Eavesdropping Act,” was proposed by Jordan Cunningham, a Republican assemblyman representing San Luis Obispo County. The bill has bipartisan support from many Democrats, including Democrat assembly member Buffy Wicks who represents Oakland, according to KBIX in San Francisco.

Related: Over 60% of People Think Connected Devices Are “Creepy”

Alexa, Are You Storing my Voice Recordings?

After it was revealed that Amazon workers listen to customers’ voice recordings in order to improve Alexa’s voice recognition, many constituents have expressed concern over their privacy, said Cunningham.

anti-eavesdropping-act-amazon-alexa
The Amazon Alexa has been accused of “eavesdropping”.

He continued,

“I’ve heard from constituents they widely support the idea that their personal conversations that occur in the intimacy of their home should remain private…and they’re not giving permission to a company to store and retain those recordings by buying a speaker.”

Currently, users can’t prevent Amazon from storing their recordings, while Apple stores voice recordings for a six-month period in order to improve Siri’s voice recognition system. The proposed bill would require companies to get affirmative and explicit permission before storing recordings.

Tech trade groups like the Internet Association oppose the bill as it would “render voice-activated smart speakers inoperable until impractical requirements, such as written consent, are satisfied to carry out necessary functions like data storage,” according to a statement written to KPIX, the local CBS affiliate in Sacramento. Cunningham says he would work with the industry to make sure the bill is not a burden while still protecting people’s privacy.

Along with support from across the aisle, the California Civil Liberties Advocacy also supports the bill. After being passed nine to zero by the Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection, the bill is moving on to the Assembly appropriations committee. 

California Leads Country in Cybersecurity Laws

Last September, California became the first U.S state to pass a law addressing the security of connected devices. The law, which will go into effect in 2020, requires IoT device manufacturers to provide the user with “reasonable security features” like pre-programmed passwords for each device and two-factor authentication.

Alexa is Still the Number One Smart Home Platform

Despite their recent privacy scandal, Alexa is still the most trusted smart home platform, according to a survey from ExpressVPN. While two-thirds of survey respondents said they were most likely to purchase Amazon Alexa as their smart home platform as opposed to Google Assistant or Facebook Portal, they still reported privacy concerns. Over a third of the respondents said they would return a device if they learned it was listening to their conversations, while 41% said they would disable the device’s microphone.

“One in five U.S. households have an internet-connected device with a microphone or camera…No doubt tech and advertising giants are salivating over the potential data mining opportunity, and hackers are highly motivated to find security vulnerabilities,” says Harold Li, Vice President at ExpressVPN. Given the massive popularity of smart speakers like Alexa, Cunningham’s bill is particularly timely.

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza Vigderman

Aliza is a journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. Throughout her career, her work has spanned many intersections within the tech industry. At SquareFoot, a New York-based real estate technology company, she wrote about the ways in which technology has changed the real estate industry, as well as the challenges that business owners face when they want to invest in property. At Degreed.com, an education technology website, Aliza created digital content for lifelong learners, exploring the ways in which technology has democratized education. Additionally, she has written articles for The Huffington Post as well as her own content on Medium, the online publishing platform. Aliza’s love of journalism and research stems from the excellent Journalism program at Brandeis University. At Brandeis, Aliza interned as a research assistant at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit “news room without walls”. There, Aliza was paired with an investigative journalist and used academic databases to obtain data on everything from the suicide rates in Bhutan to local Boston court cases. Her last position was as an account executive at Yelp, educating business owners on the power of technology to increase revenue. Throughout, however, her heart remained with tech journalism, and she’s thrilled to be writing for Security Baron. When she’s not keeping afloat of the latest tech trends, Aliza likes to cook, read, and write. A former high school “Class Clown,” Aliza has completed two feature-length screenplays, a pilot, and countless comedic sketches. On her days off you can find her relaxing in Prospect Park, trying the latest flavors at Ample Hills Ice Cream, and spending time with friends and family.

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