Today, over half the world’s population has access to the internet, and in the UK, the figure is over 90%. Therefore, there are over 328 million devices connecting to the internet each month In the time it has taken you to read this paragraph, approximately 3,810 new devices have been connected. This begs the question, how much does our tech know about us?

In the age of smart speakers always on-call to respond to our demands and phones and computers with built-in assistants, there’s no doubting the power these devices could have and do have in our lives. Unfortunately, it’s no coincidence that adverts pop up that happen to be entirely related to a recent conversation: someone (or something) somewhere heard it and picked up on it. And that's not just paranoia. But despite a few data breach scams coming up in the news every now and again, we still haven’t stopped buying these devices – by 2025, the number of smart home devices purchased is predicted to have tripled worldwide.

What about my privacy rights?

When you first sign up to use a digital service that collects any data, you are asked to agree to a privacy policy – this is the law. Unfortunately, it is most likely that you and another 9,998 people in every 10,000 click through it without reading a single word. This could be justified by the fact that it would take the average university student 244 hours per year to read the privacy policies of all the websites they use. However, signing the agreement forfeits any right to legally protest anything contained in it.

As an example, Amazon’s privacy policy contains a (non-exhaustive) list of 35 types of data it collects and stores indefinitely through a variety of its products, including:

  • Anything you say to an Amazon Echo device, and anything the Echo device picks up after a perceived trigger word (eg. If "Alexa" appears in conversation, Echo has the right to record)
  • Any order you place on any Amazon site
  • All addresses used for delivery from any Amazon site
  • Your computer’s IP address, login email and password for any Amazon service
  • Credit history information

Similarly, Google has a long scrolling site outlining its key privacy terms, similar to Amazon’s, along with separate pages for every single one of its service.

So am I being spied on?

Well, technically yes, but legally. The companies know a lot about you, and probably sell a lot about you. Some of this data is harmless and all of it is agreed in the privacy policy (which you should read!), but some of it could be really sensitive or even dangerous so we need to be careful about how we use our devices. I also believe that the companies that make devices should make a continual effort to simplify the process of discovering what data they use and minimise what they do use: after all, we are their customers and our privacy is in their hands, especially in such a sensitive and private place as our homes. 

In a TED talk*, Kashmir Hill said:

“I have to tell you, even when you're aware, generally, this is happening, it's really easy to forget that normal household items are spying on you. It's easy to forget these things are watching you, because they don't look like cameras.”

But this doesn’t mean you should throw your devices straight in the bin (this could be worse as your data could get into the hands of people more sinister than the companies you bought your devices from…)

Use the following tips to ensure your digital privacy and safety:


  • Try and read at least a bit of the Privacy Policy, or you don’t know what you’re signing yourself up for.
  • Protect your data by using strong and unique passwords so the data companies own cannot get into the wrong hands.
  • Remember that whatever you connect to the internet sends your data to and from its servers, so weigh up the benefits of connecting a device: it may be worth it, but it may not.

If you own smart speakers, devices with digital assistants, or any smart home device:

  • If you are having an important conversation about sensitive topics, put any device with a microphone on mute (not the speakers, the microphone itself).
  • If you wish to withdraw consent for using your data, have a look through account settings or email customer services.
  • If a device has a camera, find out how to switch it off or buy a cheap camera cover to avoid video footage being unknowingly collected.

In conclusion, Big Brother is not yet upon us, but in the digital age where every device communicates back to its master, we must be wary of what data we allow to be accessed.

* The TED talk mentioned can be found here: