Jimmy Patronis: Weigh the Risks Before You Merge Health Records with Alexa

Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis urged Floridians on Monday to be aware of the potential health data privacy risks after news broke that Amazon has employees listen to users’ audio files.

“How comfortable are you with a complete stranger listening to audio files from your home? That’s a reality with Amazon’s Alexa technology. Although it’s built to make our lives easier and more productive, there are real privacy risks,” Patronis said on Monday.

“Not only should you beef up your privacy protections when bringing an Alexa device into your home, but also make sure you weigh the risks when sharing personal information especially prescriptions or other medical information. Due to just one major data breach in 2017, 143 million Americans now face the potential of lifelong threats of identity theft. It’s only a matter of time before voice technology suffers a breach,” Patronis added.

“With new technology, Amazon says Alexa can now transfer sensitive health information to and from your pharmacy. We now know Amazon employs thousands of staff members dedicated to improving the Alexa digital assistant. Beware and use the privacy tips below to protect your personal data,” the CFO’s office noted before offering the following tips.

1. Turn off the mic and camera when you aren’t using your Alexa device. Alexa products capture all voice commands and other sounds in the room. If you know you won’t be using your device, turn your mic off to ensure it can’t record things being said. Newer devices have cameras, so make sure you disable that function when not in use.

2. Delete old Alexa recordings. All recordings remain on the Amazon cloud until you delete them. This can include conversations you’ve had disclosing private information. Listen to and clear out your stored recordings by going to Settings > History in the Alexa app. You can also utilize the dashboard available at Amazon.com.

3. Limit or disable Drop In permissions immediately. The Drop In feature on Alexa devices is designed to create an intercom system with another device. Be extremely cautious when allowing any Drop In permissions to your device as it allows others to access your mic and speaker. The other user can be in just the other room or in a completely different city.

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