Thoughts on Smart Devices & Privacy Beyond Passwords 

I decided long ago that the benefits I get from being on Facebook outweighed the privacy concerns. I check my security and privacy settings to make sure they’re adjusted to my liking, and Facebook’s efforts to address privacy are somewhat encouraging.   

Ultimately, I have never balked at targeted ads or any of the other ways Facebook (appropriately) seeps into my personal life online. Why not? Because I don’t pay for it.  

The game changes if I open up my wallet to pay for a device like a smart display with its eyes and ears connected to a massive database in the cloud and linked to any number of accounts and devices.  

Smart Displays from Google, Facebook, and Amazon 

While considering a smart display like Google Home HubFacebook Portal, or Amazon Echo Show (2nd generation), you’ll need to do more than check a handful of settings. You’ll have to dig a bit to see what aspects of your personal privacy you may be giving up, and what control you have over it. It’s not just about what you click on when on a site, but also about what you sayyour presence on videoand even if you sneeze.  

A smart display is kind of like the marriage between a tablet and a smart speaker. Both have entered the market individually, but knit them together, and make them both smart and connected, and you have something you might really use and enjoy. They come with a host of features tied to existing products and services you might already use or want to try out.  

The Google Home Hub

The Google Home Hub is billed as a “smart home controller” that allows you to connect with a whole host of smart devices like Google’s own Nest Hello video doorbell or Nest Cam Outdoor. Its display screen can connect to your Google Photos account to become a high-resolution digital photo frame. It will also play songs and videos directly from YouTube, another Google company.  

One thing it doesn’t have: a video camera. Google says you don’t want one, anyway, and goes so far as to ask if you really want to have a video camera in your bedroom. Ok Google, we get it.  

Facebook Portal

Facebook, unlike Google, places their Facebook Portal video camera front and center to serve as a gateway for Facebook Messenger video calls. It may be a little less connected to your smart home universe. Facebook doesn’t have much to gain there. The device is smarter than a smart phone in the way video camera “follows the action” and keeps the conversation in-frame.  

The Amazon Echo Show

The Amazon Echo Show (2nd generation) was recently upgraded to compete better with the other two. Its strong speaker will play your Amazon Music library or Audible books. Watch Prime Video, Vevo, and Hulu on its screen. It has a camera like the Portal, wired to Skype and Echo. Amazon’s strength here is the world’s largest online store just waiting to hear what you want and need, or to recommend what you might like.  

Down the road a bit, if Amazon’s Alexa hears you sneeze or cough while addressing it, don’t be surprised if you are offered various cold remedies to have shipped in a day. I’m not kidding. They filed a patent for this last fall.  

Before You Checkout, Consider Your Privacy  

Smart Displays bring a new level of privacy considerations. All those services, features, and what happens in the background that you cannot see makes it necessary to educate yourself.  I’m not saying don’t buy one, but be informed and make the decision that’s right for you.  

Facebook, likely because of its major privacy blunders in recent years and months, is very upfront and clear about privacy on its Portal’s product page. It also has less of its own stuff connected to the Portal, which generally means fewer privacy statements to sift through.  

Facebook won’t listen or keep any aspects of your video calls, does not use facial recognition, and the smart camera runs locally on your Portal, not on Facebook’s servers.  

By contrast, you need to go to the Google Help Center to learn how they are protecting your privacy. The web page contains a long list of questions, and answers often link over to their dense Privacy Statements, service by service.  

Amazon falls somewhere in between in terms of making it simple to sort things out.  

They all claim they don’t record your voice until you give it a command like “OK Google”, “Alexa”, or “Hey Portal”.  

Smart devices will process and store your voice data and other audio in the cloud, and may use it for research purposes for other products in development. Par for the course.  

When using one of these smart displays consider the following steps towards privacy: 

  • Turn off the mic and video camera when not in use 
  • Disablvoice purchasing 
  • Check settings that let the display automatically connect with any other gadget 

A little bit of research will only serve to make you a smart and informed shopper, for a product that’s inherently smart and eager to keep you informed.