Turn Alexa off if coronavirus forces you to work from home, lawyers say

Tech companies have come under fire for creating AI devices that listen in on conversations unprompted

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People who work with confidential material are advising others to turn off their artificial intelligence assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant.

Tech companies that make AI assistants that interpret dialogue have come under fire for creating devices that listen in on conversations unprompted and keeping records of conversations to develop product capabilities.

With millions of people working home due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.K.-based law firm Mishcon de Reya LLP, famous for advising Princess Diana during her divorce, recently advised its staff to turn off the devices, according to a March 20 Bloomberg report.

"Perhaps we’re being slightly paranoid, but we need to have a lot of trust in these organizations and these devices," Mishcon de Reya partner Joe Hancock said. "We’d rather not take those risks."

WORKING FROM HOME: DO'S AND DON'TS

Amazon and Google have made efforts to make their devices more private in response to consumer demand, but employees working from home during the pandemic have been advised to be extra cautious as they use equipment and connect to networks that may not be as protected as the equipment and networks used in their usual office settings.

Baby monitors, closed-circuit TVs and security cameras such as Amazon's Ring could also pose security threats for employees working with confidential material, the Bloomberg report notes.

In this July 16, 2019, file photo, Ernie Field pushes the doorbell on his Ring doorbell camera at his home in Wolcott, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

As business technology website ZDNet contributor Christ Matyszczyk put it: "Imagine ... 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."

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

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