CHOICE membership

Privacy, Smart Devices, their T&Cs, CHOICE testing & reviews of them

Creating this topic to move the Privacy issues I raised in the Smart Speaker topic. The discussion here is more to do with how Privacy, Terms and Conditions we agree to are affected or implemented, and what CHOICE might be able to do when reviewing these devices and the agreements we have to make when we use them. Some things like undeclared and inactive microphones on some devices, what we might be giving up when we agree to some T&Cs, whether CHOICE can look into what we agree to and ways to provide greater protections for the consumers who use these new Smart Devices.

There is some advice on the site about how to secure our networks from these Smart devices but perhaps more needs to be done before we even consider buying some of these. Do the CHOICE reviews need to look at these issues. Do we need changes to the T&Cs to make them more open so that we can make better informed decisions. Are some just dangerous eg Baby or Security devices that broadcast to others without security protections that work. All opinions are welcomed and encouraged.


With the kerfuffles about Huawei, WeChat, etc, etc it is curious how many people are happily installing devices that are designed to listen and report back to [… , …]. No privacy nor security problems there. Nope. None. :rofl:

(Q: What is that insider share tip, before anyone else gets it?
A: BigNaughty P/L
device: hellloooo broker, buy 100000 shares of BigNaughty at market )


Absolutely agree!!! Sorry that I can’t but if I could More likes I would pile on this one comment by you @TheBBG .

Some people must be so happy to give out data to huge multinational/uncensored business that they plug not just one in but multiples so that every room is a listening post. If someone installed these devices without your knowledge but did it for your “benefit” how many would be calling it spying. Oh sorry that’s right they did and didn’t advise anyone that certain devices had “unused” microphones in them…But it’s all ok it’s just so and so company and they won’t hurt me… Just let me fumble for the up chuck bucket over that one.


(Drum roll). Who would have thought?


Edit: Fake News apparently 2 years old! Newscorp is right on top of it publishing it with today’s date. See @postulative’s post below.

They listen and sometimes act! I’ll leave some of what they take in to the imagination, but sometimes it works for the best.


Vividly. :wink:
Is this just one more excuse to give increased authority to invade, sorry intrude into, oops really really sorry, improve our everyday lives?

Will Alexa and others politely offer and do so discretely the number of a family counselling service? Or for those more intimate moments some great tips or special products useful for spicing up the occasion?

Which product providers will get top billing? Will there be a ‘MeToo’ moment and a concise intervention or an unwarranted intrusion due to the AI getting it wrong?

Hopefully those that choose to dive in to the world of Smart Speakers will also have a choice of privacy settings including the right for the AI to ignore and forget!

The alternative is a smart speaker that has the moral (or perhaps Dept of Home Affairs) right to monitor every aspect of home living and to pass judgement on all before it. There is sure to be a Futurist or SciFi story with all the answers.

Alexa in the car. Why not? No more red light cameras, no more speed cameras. Alexa will dob you in every time you infringe, to the millisecond!

All we need to see next is for MyGov to integrate Alexa into their log in, ID and online chat system to complete a trifecta for Alphabet?

Smart speakers,

  • Responsive to your requests and providing assistance.
  • Providing advice and intervention when you might look like straying from the moral norms set by society.
  • Developing good citizens, law abiding and conforming to the expectations of government.

Perhaps, not ‘Big Brother’, but for Alexa ‘Big Sister’, assuming the trade mark is not infringed! Perhaps better kept in a sealed can in a dark corner of the pantry, which is where it should stay.


Uh… no? And it’s not clear why News (very) Limited wants to republish a two year old story that was easily debunked by the fact that the device cannot make phone calls (or at least, couldn’t two years ago).


Wasn’t Big Sister a brand of frozen desserts?

(Being spied on by a cake would really be our just desserts! :wink: )


Perhaps more of a can speaker than a smart speaker? :rofl:


Thanks for that. News Corp seems right on top of the news, eh? I’ll make a note in my post… Cheers,

edit: still up, and I notice full credit to the NY Post as the source Also saw this today, appropriate?


Well it may not have been the device itself but with this current story making the rounds about a very unhappy Google and a bad contractor…wondering The contractor who felt the need to release a big number of captured conversations to a media organisation might make you wonder if it couldn’t happen with human intervention. Just imagine a Google employee/contractor/linguist on hearing something while working on deciphering the spoken word picking up a phone to make the call:

The video is still up on the site linked below so you can listen to some Flemish people taking the most personal and some banal stuff and sending it on to our trusted friend Google:

Google quite rightly call this a security breach but still even if it doesn’t get released to the world it is released to Google and those they deem have the need to listen:

And a bit more on why do humans need to listen to your intimate verbal expressions:

Is it scary, I think so, is it dangerous? well obviously it could very easily be and how do you really know how the people who listen in are going to finally treat that communication. The release in the first link should be worry enough.


The Snowden revelations included mention of personal ‘selfies’ that were deemed worthy being passed around the NSA office for ogling. While a picture tells a thousand words, one can imagine there are plenty of things these devices might hear that one would prefer they didn’t.


Not so much about smart speakers but they are part of this “listening in” problem. It has now been made evident hat MS workers have been listening to the calls on Skype and Cortana queries similar to the Google process in my post above this one. The data again is at times very private/intimate. Apple & Google have recently suspended the practice of using human transcribers for the moment amid the privacy concerns this issue has raised:

To read about the Microsoft issue see:

The Skype issue seems a bit more of concern as it appears that some of this listening is done on “live” conversations as this excerpt from another article states: “While that’s largely the case, a contractor who spoke to publication “Motherboard” says that in some cases humans are used to improve the service. They will hear a five-to-ten second clip from the conversation, be shown several possible translations suggested by the automated system, and select the best. They will do this almost instantly and the selected translation is then sent to the person at the other end of the call, quickly enough that it appears entirely automatic [my highlight]”.

Has enough privacy safety been built in to these services and the use of these devices? Has legislation been keeping up with IT developments to ensure consumer protection? Are the companies policies and terms and conditions as transparent and understandable to a common person as they need to be? What to me appears to be the obvious answers are to all 3 no they are not! Thus are these Smart Devices safe to use for consumers? From a point of view of physical safety perhaps they somewhat are eg no electrocution. From a more privacy point of view no they aren’t and the results of abuse of the data collected could indeed end up with physical, financial, and Social consequences.

Similar to the HealthEngine issue currently being talked about on this site this misuse of data could be explosive to many in the wrong hands, it may be used for financial and marketing gain by those who obtain the data beyond the terms the consumer/user thought they had agreed to when they used the service.


Do the CHOICE reviews need to start weighing the privacy concerns when giving ratings to these types of smart devices? Are the T&Cs of use something that needs dissecting/interpreting as well to see if a device really is “safe” to use. Examples that might need looking at if these are concerns would be IoT devices, Connected “Smart” Fridges, Tv’s, Smart Phones, Tablets, Home systems that help to control everything in the home remotely, Baby monitors that are web connected via apps, security systems that are similarly connected.

Is it something that CHOICE can make recommendations to enhance the clarity of T&Cs and software/apps when they find them lacking, provide feedback to the producers and users of the tech to ensure better outcomes eg via direct contact or via Social Media, submit faulty T&Cs to the ACCC for legislative and business change to the protections similar to the Lemon Law campaign.


I suspect that most terms and conditions are vague enough to avoid direct suspicion. Similarly, if reviews consider privacy concerns what about companies like Telstra that record calls as a matter of policy (to assist in training, of course)?


I’m glad I don’t actually need a smart speaker. I only have LIFX lights and I can turn them on and off on my phone (or ipad etc) without Siri having anything to do with it. If I should want to turn lights on or off whilst out, I can do it via the Apple Home app on my phone or Watch, Its a rare event though, and I don’t usually use Siri to do it. The “hub” for this (the connection to outside the home) is actually my apple TV4. Works great.


It may be worth considering that the potential for some devices to be used to gather data in the home is not always self evident.

As consumers we can be very stupid, ignorant, distracted or mislead, and sometimes lied too! The law still defaults to ‘caveat emptor’. Some might suggest it more consistently fails to that outcome?

It may be useful for Choice reviews to at least affirm the potential or capacity of any connected device to collect data, and report it.

In it’s most simplistic form the data may be that your lights are on or off, through to audio capture or more. While a home security camera’s risks may be self evident, many other devices include built in audio capture. The concealed device, is neither apparent or attached to a bright indicator light. The purpose or existence may not be apparent to every purchaser and buried in some feature list?

An informed assessment of the T&Cs might also need some more thorough understanding of how the device connects and to what. All well beyond the average Choice consumer, although some in the community may feel at home with the concepts?

How well are consumers actually informed? We have a national standard and big stickers on devices for the energy star ratings labels.

Perhaps we need a similar sized version in garish safety warning colours with spy camera and headphone symbols to alert prospective purchasers? ASD and ASIO certified. The option to use ‘Spud Dutton’ profiles in place of stars might appeal to some. I feel it might date quickly. :rofl:

In the meantime the Choice reviews could add a panel or two below the little star ratings or recommendation score, prototyping symbols to represent product attributes. Eg 5 green leaves vs 5 lumps of coal, or 5 spies for security? A quick and easy overview.


No thanks - I can just imagine the potential for abuse. Certification would need to be by an entity that is consumer-focused, and Choice is unlikely to have the expertise or resources necessary.

That said, perhaps national consumer-focused entities could work internationally on such a project in the same way that reporters worked through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to reveal the Panama Papers to the world. This would, for instance, involve Choice working with the US Consumer Reports and Electronic Frontier Foundation, the UK’s Which?, and New Zealand’s Consumer NZ. (Yes, this list is Anglo-focused - I am sure there are plenty of similar entities that could join forces/resources in such a venture.)

Which leads to an obvious question for @BrendanMays - do the consumer groups have such an international entity through which they can share information, intelligence and gossip? If not, does Choice see value in such an arrangement to deal with more complex (and expensive) work such as investigating cyber-security and privacy in common devices?


I understand that most are bland in look but it is the underlying danger that concerns me. CHOICE I am sure are not “Babes in the Woods” when it comes to discerning that something isn’t quite right when they see the T&Cs and review the products. A review should be more than just the actual functioning of a product when it comes to Smart devices. Sure a device could be 100% safe and work very well at that basic type of level of review, eg the microphone may be very good at picking up your voice at the other side of the room, but it is what happens with that data that is obtained that then becomes an issue. Isn’t how that data is used, stored, and even disseminated part of the product performance? I think it is and the T&Cs we agree (or disagree to) make up part of that as they are what allow the companies who provide these devices to offer the services they do.

Regarding Telstra if requested they are supposed to stop recording the conversation, whether they really do or not of course is a different kettle of fish. But if they supply a device such as a Smart Phone I think the T&Cs should be looked at as part of the review just to check if there is any unnecessary potential capture of our data.


I understand you may not use Siri but do you know what Apple receives about your usage even when you use an App that isn’t strictly listening for your voice? What telemetry data do they get? Often we don’t know what we send back to these companies, but we get patches rolled out because an App didn’t function the way they intended even without someone raising the dysfunction as a concern. How would you know what they have stored or what input they capture.


Havent a clue. But I trust Apple with my data a bit more than either google or amazon for only one reason… that being that advertising is not their core business, except that they might want me to buy more Apple gear.

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