Florida CFO: Beware when using Alexa for prescriptions, health records

Amazon positions Alexa to team up in attempt to track consumers' prescriptions

By Dawn Jorgenson - Graham Media Group
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(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida’s chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, is urging consumers to be aware of potential health data privacy risks after Amazon recently positioned Alexa to team up in an attempt to track consumers’ prescriptions and relay personal health information.

Patronis said that even though the technology is built to make our lives easier, there are serious privacy risks that come along with it.

“How comfortable are you with a complete stranger listening to audio files from your home? That’s a reality with Amazon's Alexa technology,” he said. “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.”

Though Amazon employs thousands of staff members who are dedicated to improving the digital assistant, Patronis referenced a previous data breach that could have a lifelong impact on some people’s identity.

“Due to just one major data breach in 2017, 143 million Americans now face the potential of lifelong threats of identity theft,” he said. “It's only a matter of time before voice technology suffers a breach."

Here are three tips for protecting your privacy while using Alexa:

  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. These can include conversations you’ve had which you've disclosed 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 inthe next room or in a completely different city.

Do you own an Alexa device? Patronis wants you to take a moment to weigh the risks before deciding to merge health records with the digital assistant.

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