Most of us have adapted to the convenience of smart devices. Whether it be Alexa, Google Home, Siri, Cortona, etc. these voice triggered devices can make life easier by playing music, turning off the downstairs lights, or scheduling events on the go.
These devices all have “wake” words like, “Hey Siri”, “Alexa”, or “Hey Google”. Once these keywords are said smart devices are ready to listen to the users next commands. While this is a very efficient way of performing small tasks, what is your device doing on its down time? The truth is that your device is listening all the time. It captures everything that is being said and stores it in a short term database. While this information does not get posted on the public web, certain companies like Facebook and Instagram use this data to run ads targeted to your conversations. While this may be concerning for most users, it is legal for marketers to use this data due to privacy policies and end-user agreements.
In day-to-day use, most of us probably don’t mind if our devices know that we love a new sandwich shop or need to wash the car, but do we want Alexa to know the private conversations we are having with our doctor? The last thing that I want to see is an advertisement for rash cream or products that will ease my anxiety. It’s not that these products are not helpful but the information is not being asked for.
Many doctors providing services through telehealth are realizing all the precautions that need to be taken when facilitating appointments. Not only is this needed to prevent unwanted ads but also to protect the patients privacy.
The need to protect patient information has led providers to certain practices to ensure these smart devices are not listening in on conversations. A few simple steps any provider or patient can do is to unplug devices like Google Home and Alexa. This will ensure that they are not able to listen or participate in the conversation. Another practice that providers should do is put their phone in a place where the conversation can not be overheard. Some providers opt for a drawer or simply turning off the device to prevent smartphones from hearing private conversations.
If you are the kind of person who does not use voice commands and would rather not have your phone listening 24/7 there are ways to disable the voice command feature all together.
If you are a provider running your own practice, make sure that the communication software you use is secure for facilitating telehealth conversations. Platforms like Skype, Zoom, Google, and Facetime are all convenient but not guaranteed to be the best for protecting patient information.
The next time you join a telehealth call is Alexa joining the conversation?