Planning to Buy a Smart Speaker for the Holidays? Common Sense Releases Privacy Risks for Families to Know Before Buying

Convenience at the price of privacy
Common Sense Media
Wednesday, November 27, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 27, 2019—With smart speakers already in an estimated one-third of households and many more expected to arrive as holiday gifts this year, a comprehensive evaluation by Common Sense of the privacy policies of the most popular smart speakers finds that Santa isn't the only one who will know what's on your family's wish list.

The evaluation found that the devices can share troves of data with companies hungry for personal information from consumers who tell them all sorts of interesting, private, and valuable information about where they intend to go, what they plan to buy, and even how they feel.

Families should know the risks before they gift a smart speaker or welcome one into their homes. Find a video detailing a quick overview of features and privacy risks here.

The evaluation gave "warning" ratings to the home assistants inside the most popular smart speakers—Amazon Echo Dot Kids' Edition, Facebook Portal, and Google Home—because of their opaque privacy policies and use of personal information for marketing, advertising, tracking, or ad-profiling purposes. Only Apple's HomePod received a "Pass" rating. Every privacy rating includes a score. A higher score (up to 100%) means the product provides more transparent privacy policies with better practices to protect user data.

Amazon Echo Dot Kids' Edition: Alexa allows users to play music and podcasts, control smart home devices, and get information on news, weather, and more.
Pros: Alexa and the Amazon Echo Dot for Kids offers access to a large library of kid-friendly music, videos, and Audible books with a paid subscription.
Cons: Use with caution because of Alexa's potential to collect a large amount of data about individuals or families without parental consent and share it for advertising or track you across websites.
Rating: Warning
Score: 54%

Apple HomePod: Uses Siri to play music, answer questions, make recommendations, and control smart home products. It doesn't offer as many extras as other smart devices.
Pros: Apple's privacy policy says Siri's searches and requests are associated with a unique identifier and not your Apple ID—so personal information is not gathered to sell or share with advertisers or other parties. HomePod requires parents to give consent for Apple to create profiles for their kids, or to collect and share their data.
Cons: Requires a subscription to Apple's music service to play most music. The HomePod is primarily designed for playing music and controlling connected smart home products. It doesn't offer as many extras as other smart devices. HomePod is the only smart speaker that gets high privacy marks from us because there is no advertising or tracking, so it's the one to choose if that's your top concern.
Rating: Pass
Score: 79%

Facebook Portal: Portal is a little bit different from the other smart speakers—including having a camera on board and video-calling features. You can share photos, music, videos, and more with family and friends—all through the complete lineup of Facebook apps.
Pros: In addition to smart speaker features, Facebook Portal has stories for kids and brings them to life with music, animation, and AR effects.
Cons: Facebook may use the information they collect about a user, including information about their interests, actions, and connections, to select and personalize ads, offers, and other sponsored content across all its apps, including Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Rating: Warning
Score: 59%

Google Home: This smart speaker offers a wide range of entertainment and information options and works with most music services. It also syncs with the most smart home products on the market.
Pros: Google Home has the most accurate responses of all devices tested, as well as the ability to recognize different voices with customized content.
Cons: Google will serve you ads and track you across other products. That can mean your searches, your personal info, and even your family members' voices.
Rating: Warning
Score: 75%

Children are along for the ride as these speakers are being adopted by families, often with several around the home. At least six in 10 parents say their kids interact with voice-activated devices, but more may do so when parents aren't around.

Common Sense has tips for parents about how to use smart devices safely and responsibly here. Compare all the smart speaker privacy evaluations here.

The Common Sense Privacy Program evaluates popular applications and services for children, empowers parents and educators to protect child and student privacy, and supports a more secure digital future for kids everywhere. Our evaluations help parents and educators make sense of the complex policies and terms related to popular tools like virtual assistants used in homes and classrooms across the country.

About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century.

 

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