STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Here's a warning that should be on some of the items on your holiday shopping list - privacy not included. That's the point of a shopping guide put out by the Mozilla Foundation, which is an Internet-focused nonprofit. Their guide focuses on products like doorbells that double as security cameras or robots or even automatic pet feeders. Ashley Boyd is vice president of advocacy and engagement for the Mozilla Foundation and is on the line from San Francisco. Welcome to the program.
ASHLEY BOYD: Thanks so much for having me, Steve.
INSKEEP: OK. So you developed something called the Creep-O-Meter. Am I saying that correctly? What is it?
BOYD: That's perfect. It's a way for people who can connect with the reviews and tell us what they think about what we've said about the products and rate whether or not they find them creepy or not. And one really actually heartening trend we saw this year is that basic security of these connected devices is improving. Last year, only about a half of the products met our minimum security guidelines, and this year it's up to about 75%.
INSKEEP: Where do smart speakers rank on the Creep-O-Meter?
BOYD: It falls in the mid-range of the Creep-O-Meter so far, but there is growing concern about whether or not these devices are always on. And one feature that we've noticed, particularly in the Amazon products, is that they don't actually provide information about how long they store your data or whether your data can be deleted.
INSKEEP: We should drill down on this because lots of people are hearing this very interview on a smart speaker. And it's, by design, a surveillance device. Right? It's built to listen to me.
BOYD: That's right.
INSKEEP: And yet, we've grown used to the fact that it is simply there. You hear people making remarks about their smart speaker listening to them, but they have one anyway.
BOYD: That's right. And I think that, you know, this shows how little reliable information there is for consumers that is at their level. Right? You know, some of this information is provided by the companies, but there's still not a bunch of information that people can really follow along easily. And that's really the source of our inspiration for creating Privacy Not Included in the first place.
INSKEEP: Has the act of creating this guide influenced your own choices about what to buy for yourself or other people?
BOYD: Absolutely. I myself don't have a smart speaker, and I really think a lot about whether or not the benefits of these products outweigh their potential risks. And even a company like Roku - which I do have a Roku product in my house - actually is making more now as an advertiser than as a hardware provider. So that really caught my attention and made me think twice about the Roku product.
INSKEEP: This is a television viewing system.
BOYD: That's right.
INSKEEP: But why does it matter that they're making more money from advertising than from me?
BOYD: Well, what they do is they actually have a system that you can opt out of - but it's a little difficult to find. So if you just in the setup accept everything, you actually have agreed to have them monitor your viewing options. And they sell this to advertisers so that an advertiser can know if you've seen an ad. They also can know and understand what kind of shows you enjoy and serve up ads that they think will be attractive to you.
INSKEEP: It sounds like after you bought it, you found out that it was surveilling you a little more than maybe you realized. What are you going to do now?
BOYD: So I have the information about how to turn this off, and I'm going to utilize that. But the concern that we have at Mozilla is just how much work this puts on individuals. If people want, you know, enhanced advertising based on their viewing, sure, I'm happy to opt into that. But we want to put less of a burden on individuals and more responsibilities on the companies.
INSKEEP: Ashley Boyd is vice president at Mozilla. Thanks so much.
BOYD: Thank you.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And we should mention here that Amazon and other companies that make products featured on Mozilla's Privacy Not Included guide are sponsors of NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.