Over the last couple of years, Google Home and Amazon Echo have become permanent fixtures in our houses, and the amount of things we can control with our voices has grown exponentially. From light bulbs to kettles, to the temperature of our homes, it seems that everything is getting ‘smart’. But can we trust devices that are always listening? We asked a bunch of our IT support engineers and web developers what they think of their home assistants.
I've got Google Home Mini - I have one upstairs and one downstairs. I got one of them for free with my TV. I didn't even realise I needed one until I got one; then Mr. Wong educated me on the things I could get it to do. I bought the second one a few months afterwards. The second one is awesome because I can talk to the kids when they're upstairs without having to shout - you can talk from a Google Mini to another one. Or I can talk through my mobile phone to my dog at home.
I ask what the weather is going to be like on a given day, what the traffic is like, ask it to play some relaxing music, ask it a random question when I'm arguing with someone about something - because Google is always right. I know it's listening to us and I don't care to be honest; it's got to be listening all the time so it can respond. My Xbox has been listening for years. I don't mind, I've got nothing to hide.
I have Google Home and the Home Hub that has a little screen. I got it last year. I use it to switch my lights on and off, and it is my alarm clock aswell - it switches on, tells me the weather and plays the radio. I play music with it, it tells me what the traffic is like for my commute. I can use it for my TV but it takes too long, so generally I just use the remote control.
I'm not worried about it always listening; I actually wish it would learn how to listen better because anyone can say anything - in the house, on the radio, - and that will have set it off. Google's television adverts for Google Home uses the phrase 'Hey Google'; as soon as that starts, it sets my Google Home off. I'm not bothered by the fact that it's always on, because it can't even distinguish between me and an advert. If it wasn't for the fact that it switches on my lights, I'd get rid of it. It's a glorified light switch.
I have six Echo Dots, one Google Home Mini and one Echo Show - that's basically an Echo that has a screen on it. I picked them all up over the last two years. The Echo Dots are cheap, so there's one of those in every room. The Google Home Mini was free, and the Echo Show is because the iPad in the kitchen died - it was cheaper to replace it with an Echo Show. Now I can shout at it when I'm cooking without having to press any buttons.
I use it for controlling lights, heating, watching cooking videos. I use it for playing music when I have people over, because it syncs music between all the different rooms. I'm not worried about the privacy stuff - I can view the amount of data that each device is uploading. The one in front of the TV has uploaded 4.7GB of data to Amazon; the one of the dining room had uploaded 1MB by comparison. I just don't really care; I know it uploads everything because I can see it happening. But I don't mind. I could go without them, but it would be boring.
I have two Amazon Echo Dots. I got one last year in the Black Friday sale - it was 10% off for users of Prime Now, and then I got cash back on it too so it was a real bargain. I got the latest one a few months ago - that one was a gift. I use it for mostly kitchen timers and listening to music; occasionally audio books.
The privacy issues bother me a little; but one of the Echo Dots lives in the kitchen and the other one lives in the spare room, so it's not like they're in main rooms in the house. I've never checked the amount of data it uploads - I wouldn't even know how to check. I wouldn't get rid of them though.
I've got an Amazon Echo Dot - I got it last Christmas in the Black Friday sale. I use it for music, podcasts, listening to the news. It's in my bedroom. There's not many people in my room so it's fine.
I'm not worried about the security stuff - I think everything else is probably listening in already, like my phone and stuff. It's not always on, but it is on most of the time. I turn it off when I have to plug something else in, like when I have to turn the heat lamps on for my snakes. Sometimes I'll have it play the sound of rain for background noise before I go to sleep.
I have an Amazon Echo, I got it years ago. I use it for music, podcasts and my Bluetooth speaker. It's in the kitchen or in the bathroom, depending on where I move it - it's useful when you're having a bath, you can change the music easily. The range is pretty good - I can talk to mine in the kitchen from upstairs and it'll respond; although saying that, it is deaf when I'm stood next to it. It only understands angry Geordie voices. If I ask Alexa to play something, I have to shout to get it to understand me.
It isn't switched on enough for me to worry about privacy and security really; if someone wants to listen to me having a bath, or washing the dishes or cooking a meal, they're welcome to. Those are the only times that I use it - I unplug it most of the time. I'd never get rid of it because I use it every day.
I got a free Google Home Mini when I got my phone - but I've never plugged it in. I don't think the pay off is worth losing your privacy to be honest.
Tweet us @TranscenditUK