Working from home? Switch off Amazon's Alexa (say lawyers)

One of the byproducts of doing all your work from home is that you might be discussing confidential matters. And who might overhear them? Well, there's your smart speakers....
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

Those not used to working from home must be going through several stages of spiritual discomfort.

Yes, ZDNet's more experienced hands can help you acclimatize to the new working style, now that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted modern working life.

Yet some professionals may not be so able to deal with life sans their office perks. Lawyers, for example.

Many are used to sitting in their enclosed chambers, closing their doors and holding vital conversations about lawyerly matters. There, they feel secure.

Working in their homes, they worry who may be spying on them. Alexa, for example, and her band of vastly intelligent speakerpersons.

Bloomberg reports that famed UK law firm Mishcon de Reya -- motto: "It's Business. But It's Personal." (seriously) -- is telling its fine employees to mute or even totally disable domestic smart speakers for confidential business calls.

Joe Hancock, the Mishcon de Reya partner who leads its cybersecurity discipline, offered these words: "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."

Paranoia is one of the three essential skills every lawyer should have. The other two are, of course, an aggressive billing department and a cataclysmic ability to out-lie even a politician.

When Hancock refers to devices, he means every gadget you've bought to fully express your inability to make an effort around the house and your comfort with the surveillance state. Yes, even the devastatingly ineffective Amazon Ring doorbell.

The law firm conceded there may be a lesser chance of being spied on by, say, an Amazon Echo or Google Home than some tawdry facsimile, but paranoia is paranoia. It really can't be slight.

I warm to Mischon's mischgivings.

Can anyone really have total confidence in what these machines overhear and where those recordings might appear? Sometimes, such speakers have deliberately recorded your conversations. To help create a better product for you, of course.

Then there's the recent research that revealed Alexa and her squad accidentally activate and record conversations up to 19 times a day.

Imagine, then, that you're a lawyer dealing with a very important case involving dirty money, local politicians, a power utility and three former contestants on The Bachelor.

At some point, you utter the word "congresswoman." Unbeknownst to you, that may be the moment that Alexa starts to record. You see, the research I mentioned above found that "congresswoman" was one of the words that made Alexa think she was being summoned.

Yes, talk about ideas below her station. But imagine the possible result when Alexa records the details of this call and it mysteriously becomes a New York Post-level scandal: "Bachelor contestants and local pols conned Edison out of $50 million."

Of course, there's something else you could try. Once you've turned off Alexa, Siri or Mrs. Google, what if you don't turn them back on?

You might feel curiously free.

Top tips to keep safe around your voice assistant

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