Saturday, July 13, 2019

If you think your device is spying on you, then you are missing the point.

Why does this keep coming up? No one buying a $25 cam or < $50 voice assistant is a hot ad target. Much less a blackmail target. Just think about it for a second and it is obvious. It all comes down to ROI. Processing audio much less video to the point of getting data points out of it is costly. Note devices are getting more powerful all the time. Processing is moving from the cloud to the device. So not long from now it might be cost effective to pull ad data from every word heard by a speaker but right now it is not. Note too even with local recog the assistant needs a wake word / phrase to know it is being talked to to pull that voice from the stream of other voices (like a TV or radio) surrounding it.

Streaming audio, much less video, 24/7 is going to get noticed. Lots of people have looked at the traffic on these devices and found nothing unexpected. Note Wyze used to use servers in China but people complained about it right away and they switched to US servers. But in the posts I mainly see it is "someone told me that it was doing X." Or some sort of vague thing like I talked about this thing and then saw an ad for it. Usually something not all that unusual for them to see an ad for.

However IF the makers of these devices were going to do something malicious the odds are MUCH more likely they would be used as bots for attacking REAL targets. As in companies and agencies. Either for extortion or brute forcing access. An even greater worry ought to be that these cheap devices probably are not that secure and might be pulled into a third parties botnet. Either way unless it is activated you would not expect to see any significant traffic. Note though, while you might be a "real" target, there are lots of script kiddies out there that might just use you to learn on and or try stuff out before going after a real target. They hit my websites and bang against my home firewall all the time. And since they do not know what they are doing they can REALLY screw things up if they get access.

That said if you give a damn about your data security you ought to have decent network gear that lets you monitor traffic and put your IoT on a network isolated from data you care about. Allow no inbound traffic and on the IoT network only allow outbound traffic as need. As a rule cameras should talk to nothing outside your network other than any cloud storage they might be linked to. On your data network you should be using a DNS that at minimum filters known bad actors. That is just life in the 21st century. Like door locks in the 20th.

Or just hope for the best and not worry about it. There is NO point in worrying about something without doing something about it much less doing any research. After all I hear some people still happily leave their doors unlocked.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Alexa vs Google revisited.

As so many of these this started as a reply to a question on a Facebook group. In this case what is up the Google Assistant and Homeseer? After a rather lengthy response I thought I should flesh it out even more an post it here. I'm just comparing my experience living with them nt side by side features. In my opinion both Amazon and Google are trying to push hard into siloed home automation which is just wrong. Interoperability is the future and local control is a must. Expect to see local (cloud independent) voice assistants REAL soon.

I find I'm using Google Home less and less. Mainly I use Home when Alexa is one of her moods (had another badly weighted update pushed) but things seem to have peaked with Google Home.
For an example it used to be "tell Harmony to turn on TiVo."
Then is was just "turn on TiVo"
But then "Turn on TiVo" got you "Do you want to use Harmony for that?" "Yes". In diff voice "Turning on TiVo".
Then "Turn on TiVo" got you "Do you want to use Harmony for that?" "Yes." "I don't recognize your voice."
Now back to "Tell Harmony to turn on TiVo." and half the time it says it does not recognize my voice. Which is even more irksome considering how often it responds to someone on the TV or a podcast just saying Google without even the hey. Not to mention all the times I'm not sure what triggered it.

Sorry but having to remember which thing this week to ask to turn something on or off on top of the name for the thing I had to give it so it did not sounds like something else, is just is not going to get you market share. Especially if it keeps telling me it will not do stuff cause it does not recognize my voice. Granted maybe if I spent more time tweaking it I could improve it a bit but that kind of misses the point of it and I've not had to mess with Alexa other than adding devices and alias TV to TiVo after one especially bad update. Though I have to admit recently I added my "Good morning" "routine" so instead of just telling Homeseer to put the house in day mode it also tells me some fun fact and the weather.

I should note too Google is more likely to false trigger and to just not respond than Alexa if it does not know what to do. So it might be having trouble listening when you think it is down. Though Alexa is getting more like Home in that respect. I keep the notification sounds on so I know when they think they heard something but ignored it. Which is why I just do not get people that complain about Alexa saying OK. But then I work in IT so I kind of expect a certain amount of errors. Like saying "thank you" to end a follow on sequence it just makes sense from a programmer's mindset.

Anyway contrast the above with Alexa will generally get a voice command at least by the third try if I have not triggered it some other way before that. Some responses just make you go huh? Like the other yesterday when I said "Alexa , turn on video", a command to switch my main video stream from the triggered security cams back to what I was watching and unpause. Her response, "I can not find a device named lamp." Then too I started putting Echo buttons about as backups / quicker response for things like sending OK / Select to the device currently playing video or signalling the house to go into away mode. They light up green instead of saying OK so you know the command got through. Used to have an Echo button for TiVo skip too before they made that automatic. Planning on getting some more Prime day. Note you can only pair 4 to an Alexa and they are only reliable to around 20 feet though a wall. At 2 for $14 (on sale price) hard to beat for when you just need an easy to hit button. Like advancing to the next show while washing dishes with the volume up. Both seem able to pick your voice out of impressive levels of room noise but you can only expect so much.

Note too IFTTT has been having a ton of issues with Homeseer, among others, lately. So I wonder sometimes which end it is truly on. Or if maybe something in the middle is the iffy bit. Which why you always have back methods for every trigger no matter the interface. Even the local ones.