Stranger Things: Who’s Listening When the Device Is Always On?

Thursday, January 18, 2018 - 4:00 pm4:30 pm

Emily McReynolds, Tech Policy Lab, University of Washington


As people and companies bring more devices that are "always on" into homes, workplaces, and hotels, the nature of the experience of surveillance is changing. The introduction of the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and other similar products have demonstrated the growing misunderstanding regarding these device’s capabilities and whether to trust them (for example, "Can an Echo Testify Against You?" and "Google Home Ends a Domestic Dispute by Calling the Police"). For individuals, these devices are often insecure on the front end: others can give the device commands, anyone present would hear your password if the device requires one, and it is possible for the device to be physically hacked. The devices are also confusing and lack transparency on the back end: How does one access and delete recordings? How are the recordings stored and used by the device maker? If it isn’t "my" device, what happens to my data and recordings? Are there data deletion policies? How does the individual find out this information? Using examples from work on internet-connected toys and examinations of "always on" devices, this talk explores the growing impact of artificially intelligent devices on how we experience privacy and security. Consumer education and design choices will be key to the wide adoption of these devices and how secure they can be.

Emily McReynolds, Tech Policy Lab, University of Washington

Emily McReynolds is a researcher at the University of Washington Tech Policy Lab. The Lab is an interdisciplinary research collaboration of the UW's School of Law, Information School, and School of Computer Science & Engineering focused on emerging technology with the goal to strengthen and inform tech policy. Her research centers on privacy, anonymity, and security, with an emphasis on policy surrounding emerging technologies. Emily's work includes analyses of the privacy and security impact of Internet of Things devices, privacy in the technical process of big data, and the law and policy implications of Bitcoin. Emily went to law school planning to work on tech policy and previously taught people to use computers back when there were still floppy disks.

@inproceedings {208175,
author = {Emily McReynolds},
title = {Stranger Things: {Who{\textquoteright}s} Listening When the Device Is Always On?},
booktitle = {Enigma 2018 (Enigma 2018)},
year = {2018},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jan

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