Smart speakers treated as surveillance

So I was a bit shocked today after been hosting for 4 years now, someone for the first time complained about alexa and that this was not listed as a surveillance device.

I personally mean that AirBnb should seperate between doorbells, smart temperature sensors, smart speakers and web cameras. So they now forced me to put out that my property has surveilance in every room because I have echo devices everywhere. So will this affect the bookings? Will less people book the flat when it has surveillance? Is it better to pull out all smart speakers, so guest can not watch netflix and listen to music since web camera and echo devices get threated as the same?

WHO is forcing you to “put out” info? Did AirBnB CS tell you that you had to advertise Echo devices as “surveillance” or was this just a complaint from a guest trying to figure out a way to get compensated? I would be surprised that Air would think and Echo ar Alexa would be a “surveillance device”.


Only paranoid conspiracy-thinking people would be alarmed by your Alexa system.

However, you could include the following in your property listing: “For your added comfort and ease, we have provided Alexa voice-command devices throughout the house.”

Don’t mention these might be considered as surveillance-monitoring devices.


Well, after working in the industry for almost 30 years, I can confirm that it is a surveillance device, just not for the benefit of Airbnb hosts.

Edit: industry is high tech/consumer electronics/cloud services, not Airbnb/hosting :slight_smile:


A clash of Titans perhaps? “Airbnb declares war on Google and Amazon”?

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@skatun – WHO is complaining??? And WHO is “forcing” you to disclose anything???

Can’t advise more until you tell us… We have seen nothing from Air about disclosing anything more than cameras.



Will Noiseaware become surveillance? Smartlocks? Nest? Cigarette smoke detectors?

I had already decided not to do Alexa. Too many issues not yet worked out


Did Airbnb customer service ask you to list these as surveillance devices? Was this the official word?

Describe any device that records or sends video, audio, or still images. Specify each device’s location and whether it will be on or off.

I suppose this description does include Alexa as it transmits audio as part of its function. I’d consider muting all the Alexa devices and let guests know they can unmute Alexa to make it functional. If they’re the tin-hat sort they can leave them muted.

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How Google and Amazon are ‘spying’ on you | Consumer Watchdog

You would be forgiven for thinking that your private conversations were just that, but two leading voice assistants are listening to everything you say, a new report claims.

Patent applications from Amazon and Google revealed how their Alexa and Voice Assistant powered smart speakers are ‘spying’ on you.

The study warns of an Orwellian future in which the gadgets eavesdrop on everything from confidential conversations to your toilet flushing habits.

Future versions of gadgets like the Echo and Home will use this data to try and sell you products, it says.

The findings were published in a report created by Santa Monica, California based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog.

It says patents reveal the devices’ possible use as surveillance equipment for massive information collection and intrusive digital advertising.

The study found that digital assistants can be ‘awake’ even when users think they aren’t listening.

The digital assistants are supposed to react only when they hear a so-called ‘wakeword.’

For Amazon’s Echo it’s ‘Alexa’ and for Google Home it’s ‘OK, Google.’

In fact, the devices listen all the time they are turned on – and Amazon has envisioned Alexa using that information to build profiles on anyone in the room to sell them goods.

From my understanding, @Brian_R170 is 100% correct that these devices are vacuuming up your personal data and indeed one could say spying. Not tin-foil hat stuff really.

See for example the Oregon couple whose private conversation was forwarded to someone on their contacts list:

Amazon Alexa spying scandal creates trust problem with customers …


Your smart TV is watching you watching TV, Consumer Reports finds

But remember, smart phones do the exact same thing, and nearly 100% of Airbnb guests have them.

I’ve read those reports, too.

When you look at how it actually transmits data, it’s much different than this Orwellian picture. The onboard processing listens all the time for a wakeword. When it hears it, it essentially clips the next words and sends those back to HQ so it can process and react to speech. Nerds have watched the actual packets going back and forth. Until the wakeword happens, nothing is being transmitted.

So your entire conversations aren’t going back to Amazon. The clip of speech after the wakeword is.

Not to say you shouldn’t have privacy concerns with this new technology, but some people are really doing some chicken-little squawking about the sky falling.

Anyone who has Facebook installed on their smartphone has FAR bigger privacy issues than they do hanging out in a room with Alexa.


Ditto to both

“Sounds” like the complaining guest has listened to too many news reports that over reacted to Alexa’s use and people not using the privacy settings.

To add to the lack of privacy—Netflix and Amazon display what you’ve recently viewed. Both have some adult content and LGBT(etc) content too. If you offer Netflix to your guests they can see what you watch & vice versa.


Remember when the NSA tapped into all phones and was it AT&T who even willingly shared their customers calls and internet service to the spy-industry?

Facebook has lied to Congress and keeps lying to the public.
Google is not the not evil company it started out to be.
Amazon has its share of scandals too but would I trust that they store my personal information and don’t necessarily misuse their enormous data information center with Americans searching details?
I doubt it.

In America regulations are awful and companies (some) can’t be trusted from a consumer point of view. You don’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to mistrust those huge tech giants.

Is Airbnb then trying to preemptively manage a situation? Possibly but it seems a bit excessive marking those as surveillance.


Do you believe this is all it is? I don’t for a second. We’re the product for all these companies.

Anyone who is ON Facebook … anywhere is completely & 100% nuts.

I had a similiar experience, here is the answer what I got:

Any audio or video recording devices, such as Alexa, cannot be in bedrooms or sleeping areas, as that would be a zero-tolerance area, and cause for the listing to be permanently removed from the platform.

They also said
Devices are required to be disclosed them in the correct section of their listing page.

The problem with the last statement is the number of limited characters at the surveillance section so its hard to list where you have all your alexa devices since its basically just enough characters to write were you have one device, not when you have 20 of them around the house!

Have no Idea if its enough to just unplug them and have the guest replug 20 plugs if they want to enjoy multiroom listening.

Its fine that voice assistant exist and that the guest should be warned about it, but it should be seperated from webcameras which is a no go, because the way airbnb do it now is it not very sustainable were probaly 1% of ppl that have echo gets in trouble and those needs to list their site equal to people with web cameras. A better approach I think is to have separate section for smarthome/voice assistant.

If amazon/google/facebook listen is a differnet story, but at least its super nice to be able to stream music and video :slight_smile:

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Yes they do … Also netatmo which can record noise levels

These devices can’t be unplugged or stored in a locked cabinet in sleeping rooms, but you can place them right outside the door and run the audio cable inside to the bedroom and the devices will still most likely be able to pick up the wake word. I can manage to get my Alexa in bathroom to pick up what I say in bedroom if I just talk loud enough…

I believe in the scientific method.

You can test it yourself. Here are instructions from stackexchange:

Thus, according to Amazon, the wake word detection is on the device. This can be very easily tested by prohibiting the device from reaching the Internet in your router. The Echo/Echo Dot will still recognize the wake word, but the light ring will go red and the device tells you it has no Internet connection. So, we can very simply verify, that the wake word recognition is indeed done locally .

Only after detecting the wake word the device contacts the Alexa cloud service.

According to Amazon, the device only streams to the cloud when the light ring is blue and it doesn’t listen at all when you muted it and the light ring is beaming solid red. Of course, cautious people can verify that with network tools like Wireshark to make sure it really only transmits then.

Do I trust Amazon to not change this in the future? Absolutely not. But I can’t imagine Amazon or Google could learn much from my conversations that they wouldn’t piece together from my search and purchase history. If you don’t live in the EU your data is everywhere.


Me too.

All these things most likely have backdoors not detectable by the stackexchange test.

Timely article –

Excerpt for those who want to review what Alexa has captured:

What we find strange, however, is that even though it has now been fully documented and thoroughly disclosed that Alexa is a not so hidden microphone allowing Bezos and his minions, potentially including journalists from the WaPo, to listen in on every single word that is said in Alexa’s vicinity, Americans not only have not boycotted the product but continued to buy it: yes, they are paying to be spied upon!

That said, one can always hope that a casual glimpse into just how much information Alexa has collected on each and every American, will finally stop this ludicrous behavior. Luckily, there’s a website for that.

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