ARIZONA NEWS

Can virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa be trusted with your money?

Jun 20, 2018, 3:54 PM | Updated: Jun 21, 2018, 1:45 pm
In this June 14, 2018, photo, Gareth Gaston, Executive Vice President and Head of Omnichannel Banki...
In this June 14, 2018, photo, Gareth Gaston, Executive Vice President and Head of Omnichannel Banking at US Bank, discusses voice assistant banking with a mobile phone, an Amazon Echo, center, and a Google Home, right, in New York. Big banks and financial companies have started to offer banking through virtual assistants, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant, in a way that will allow customers to check their balances, pay bills and, in the near future, send money just with their voice. Regional banking giant U.S. Bank is the first bank to be on all three services, Alexa, Siri and Assistant. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

PHOENIX – Banks are rolling out financial services through virtual assistants, but is it really a good idea to let Alexa or Siri handle your money?

Technology expert and syndicated radio host Kim Komando said users of voice-activated devices should be aware that everything they say could be recorded.

“You always have to remember that when you have these devices in your homes … they are truly always listening,” Komando told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Thursday.

“And of course the manufacturers say they’re not always listening, they’re just listening for the wake words. Well the bottom line there is that, well, they are in fact listening and they are recording every single thing that you say.”

Big banks and financial companies have started to offer banking through Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant in a way that will allow customers to check their balances, pay bills and, in the near future, send money just with their voice.

But the potential to do such sensitive tasks through a smart speaker raises security concerns.

“The other thing that you have to remember is that anything that’s ever connected to the internet – and I know it’s frightening – but it is truly hackable,” said Komando, who is based in Phoenix.

Regional banking giant U.S. Bank is the first bank to be on all three services — Alexa, Siri and Assistant. The company did a soft launch of its Siri and Assistant services in early March and this month started marketing the option to customers.

Other financial companies have set up virtual assistant features. Credit card companies Capital One and American Express both have Alexa skills that allow customers to check their balances and pay bills. There are other smaller banks and credit unions that have set up Google Assistant or Alexa as well.

For now, U.S. Bank is keeping the features available through bank-by-voice fairly restrictive. Customers will be able to check bank balances, pay U.S. Bank credit cards and mortgages, ask Alexa or Google the due dates on bills, and other basic functions. Money cannot be transferred from a U.S. Bank account using voice yet, but the bank is considering the option.

“You have to remember, too,” Komando said, “that voices can be recorded, they can be distributed, and voices can also be manipulated.”

It’s not just banks that are adopting the technology. Marriott recently announced that its hotels would be using Amazon Echo devices as substitutes for calling room service and other options.

“Marriott is saying that it’s a good way for you to contact the front desk,” Komando said, “but you have to remember that it’s like having a TV camera in your hotel room, and it’s also like having one in your home.”

The only way to be certain your device isn’t recording when you don’t know it is to turn it off when you aren’t using it.

“Because otherwise the device is truly recording everything that you say,” Komando said.

Amazon users can see what’s been recorded under the “manage recording” section in the Alexa app. Komando said the device in her home recorded a conversation she had with her husband about selling a property in Phoenix.

“It had nothing to do with Alexa,” she said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mark Carlson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Can virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa be trusted with your money?