Sonos app can turn a disabled Sonos One microphone back on - privacy issue?

  • 1 January 2018
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Hi all. I have a set of stereo paired Sonos Ones. I have manually disabled the microphone on the right speaker by pressing the button on top. Today I disabled Alexa by going to [Settings - Room Settings - Living Riving Room (L+R) - Voice Services]. When I followed the same steps to re-enable, I was surprised to see that the app turned the right speaker's microphone back on. Seems to me that a manually disabled microphone should not be able to be turned back on through the network. It's a potential privacy hole. Have others noticed this, and has Sonos stated whether this is expected behavior?

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36 replies

Userlevel 7
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I quit reading about the new playbar when I got to the mikes, no physical disconnect switch no sale here.
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Hi all, here's some information that might help fill in some gaps.

The process of enabling voice services on a Sonos One, authorizes the One with your Alexa account. The player knows that when it’s first authorized with an Alexa account it should turn on the microphone, and will do so, even if you’ve turned it off previously.

This setup process requires logging in to both your Sonos account and your Amazon Alexa account. You can, of course, turn the microphone off again just by tapping on the microphone icon. Also, the LED is hardware linked with the microphone’s state, so you’ll always know when the microphone is on.

I'll pass along your sentiment wanting a manual privacy switch for devices, Stanley, the team always is looking for feedback.


The problem is, I don't want to have to go around and check all of my LED indicators on my devices, every time I come home from work and expect to have a private conversation with anyone in my family. If there isn't a hardware switch, it's not secure. If you don't believe me, just look at all of the people that have tape over their notebook cameras. "But the light will go on if the camera is on." was what everyone assured us. That is, until the cameras began turning on without the light going on.
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I quit reading about the new playbar when I got to the mikes, no physical disconnect switch no sale here.

In my opinion having a mic on a product like a Sonos One or Sonos Beam is no different to having a mic on your smart phone - apart from the fact that your smart phone mic is not hardwired and is entirely controlled by software and so could be activated remotely.


For you this could be true; however, there are millions of people that disable Siri, Hey Google, and Alexa. This should, according to most hardware and software agreements, keep the phone from listening in all of the time. So for me, it's apples and oranges.

Again, it's not a stretch to expect Sonos to provide a product that gives the user a reasonable expectation of privacy. For me, Alexa enabled devices breach my threshold for what I'm willing to put in my home. This doesn't have to be true for everyone, and hopefully the Alexa camp will allow for those of us that have been spurned by privacy violations, to keep the open mics out of our homes.
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That still leaves the question though... if the Sonos controller can do it over the network, can others too? If the controller can't, and it's an action that the speaker itself is taking because of the addition of a voice service, there should be some notification in the app that the mic is being enabled.
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For us having a mike or camera in any connected device is a major sticking point. We disable them on almost everything we bring home and have skipped purchasing devices that are hard to disable or that disabling would be a warranty issue.

Adding a manual privacy switch to any device is going to become more and more important as folks learn how to break into them and collect private conversations and video.
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For us having a mike or camera in any connected device is a major sticking point. We disable them on almost everything we bring home and have skipped purchasing devices that are hard to disable or that disabling would be a warranty issue.

Adding a manual privacy switch to any device is going to become more and more important as folks learn how to break into them and collect private conversations and video.


This is precisely why I have no intention of buying the Play One. I WILL NOT have any open mics or cameras in my house. At some point people are going to push back and push back hard. Some lady in Seattle just had a casual conversation sent to her from over 100mi away. Her Amazon listening device had recorded her conversation and sent it to a random person.
Userlevel 7
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I know I'm not going to win this argument with Sonos even if the answer is a couple cents for adding a switch.

I'd also be good if they let me open the device and snip a wire without voiding my warranty. 🙂
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I'm in a polyglot household – a combination of Apple, Android, Microsoft, Google, and Sonos – so I'm familiar with some of the competition. Our Google Home devices have physical mute switches in back which spend most of their time in the off position.

I want to buy the Sonos One to add AirPlay support to my existing speaker group, but I won't do that if I have to _look at the device_ to make sure the mic is still off. That doesn't inspire confidence that I'm in control of my privacy.
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Appreciate it, though that suggestion misses the point. A physical switch provides confidence because it takes potential software vulnerabilities out of the picture. If Alexa gets set up in software, and that's what turns on the mic. It follows then, that software can turn on the mic, and whether I set up Alexa or not, the mic still can be turned by software.

If the mic is triggerable in software, there's always the possibility of software missteps, bugs, and vulnerabilities. Consider that security vulnerabilities can be in fundamental aspects of systems, like CVE-2015-7547, the glibc vulnerability in 2016. Security vulnerabilities are simply part of software reality (which is why the industry has a long history of them).

Because I don't need the microphone, I want to opt out.
Userlevel 7
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The problem is, I don't want to have to go around and check all of my LED indicators on my devices, every time I come home from work and expect to have a private conversation with anyone in my family. If there isn't a hardware switch, it's not secure. If you don't believe me, just look at all of the people that have tape over their notebook cameras. "But the light will go on if the camera is on." was what everyone assured us. That is, until the cameras began turning on without the light going on.

I know where you're coming from, my wife has always kept the camera lens covered on the devices she can cover. However, the LED on the Sonos One is physically connected to the microphones to where if they are getting power, the LED has power. There is no, and will be no software way to change that. So you can be sure that if the LED is off, the microphones aren't listening (assuming someone hasn't opened up your Sonos One and broken the LED or the wiring to the light). While the button on top isn't a hardware switch that cuts off the circuit, we did design the Sonos One it with your security and privacy in mind.
Userlevel 7
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I quit reading about the new playbar when I got to the mikes, no physical disconnect switch no sale here.

In my opinion having a mic on a product like a Sonos One or Sonos Beam is no different to having a mic on your smart phone - apart from the fact that your smart phone mic is not hardwired and is entirely controlled by software and so could be activated remotely.
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n my opinion having a mic on a product like a Sonos One or Sonos Beam is no different to having a mic on your smart phone - apart from the fact that your smart phone mic is not hardwired and is entirely controlled by software and so could be activated remotely.

I agree completely which is why we have no smart phones here either.
Userlevel 7
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n my opinion having a mic on a product like a Sonos One or Sonos Beam is no different to having a mic on your smart phone - apart from the fact that your smart phone mic is not hardwired and is entirely controlled by software and so could be activated remotely.

I agree completely which is why we have no smart phones here either.


I suspect that there are very few Sonos customers that don't own a Tablet or Smartphone...
How is it apples and oranges? Whether it's a phone, tablet, or Alexa device, the mic can be turned off via software configuration. Enabling a skill that is entirely about voice control makes sense to turn on the mic. If you enable siri, are you surprised that the mic is turned on?

Sonos one actually goes one step further giving you a visual que.
Userlevel 7
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Because I don't need the microphone, I want to opt out.
So don't buy a ONE: it doesn't meet your criteria.

If you have the technical skills you might want to look at setting up AIrConnect [1] to provide direct AirPlay (v1) to all your existing Sonos devices. It works well.

[1] https://github.com/philippe44/AirConnect
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@pwt Thanks for that link!

I'm not shunning Sonos. On the contrary, I'm a customer and I like their products. I even promote them. I've gotten other people to purchase thousands of dollars of their products.

> On the very unlikely chance it gets turned on in software, the LED gets turned on. That cannot be defeated via software, for it is hardwired to the power lead to the microphones.

I appreciate that Sonos designed the device with privacy in mind, as evidenced by that light. With due respect to the designers, I'll reiterate what I said before: as a privacy-conscious user, having to look at the device to make sure the mic is still off is not a good user experience.

Regarding smartphones: privacy decisions can be thought of as questions of cost and benefit. Smartphones are bad for privacy: they have a high cost. However, for many users, they provide enough utility that the benefit outweighs. Home devices that send audio to the cloud don't provide enough benefit for me to make that tradeoff. Or should I say, they don't… yet.
So you aren't actually worried about privacy, only that the positives of losing that privacy outweigh the negatives?


Well yea, I'd agree that privacy concerns can be looked at as a risk/reward decision. People use smartphones because they find them very useful, even though they give up some privacy to do so. That does not mean they'll give up privacy for little or no benefit to themselves. Take GPS for example. People would not want a phone with GPS if it did not provide navigation benefits to them.

And this is not just tech, but life in general. Automobiles are dangerous, but people use them all the time since they see a massive benefit. Not as many people will ride a motorcycle as they do not see the added risk as worth the added benefit.

That said, people often miscalculate the risk based off appearances/perception. Most people would tell you that driving is more dangerous than flying, even though the opposite is true. Much of that has to do with how use they are to driving vs flying and they're comfortable level with what they know. I think voice assistance creep some people out because it actually responds to you, reminding you that's it's listening, while the mic on your phone does not (unless you tell it to)

So I get why people don't want voice assistants in their home. I just don't get why people claim I'm irrational for using them when their privacy is already compromised.
Userlevel 7
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I believe this is part of the Sonos Skill enabling process - not unreasonable to think that someone would want the mic on if they are enabling voice control of a device.
Userlevel 7
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True but all software controlled actions can by definition be undertaken in certain scenarios. If one goes down the route of having no trust in the IT infrastructure then in my opinion you are going down the route of no IoT or internet in general connectivity. However I think the average consumer want's something that 'works' and that means 'enabling' certain functions or capabilities to ensure that the average person can make technology work for them in a normal expected manner.
Userlevel 7
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Hi all, here's some information that might help fill in some gaps.

The process of enabling voice services on a Sonos One, authorizes the One with your Alexa account. The player knows that when it’s first authorized with an Alexa account it should turn on the microphone, and will do so, even if you’ve turned it off previously.

This setup process requires logging in to both your Sonos account and your Amazon Alexa account. You can, of course, turn the microphone off again just by tapping on the microphone icon. Also, the LED is hardware linked with the microphone’s state, so you’ll always know when the microphone is on.

I'll pass along your sentiment wanting a manual privacy switch for devices, Stanley, the team always is looking for feedback.
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Thanks Ryan.
For you this could be true; however, there are millions of people that disable Siri, Hey Google, and Alexa. This should, according to most hardware and software agreements, keep the phone from listening in all of the time. So for me, it's apples and oranges.

Again, it's not a stretch to expect Sonos to provide a product that gives the user a reasonable expectation of privacy. For me, Alexa enabled devices breach my threshold for what I'm willing to put in my home. This doesn't have to be true for everyone, and hopefully the Alexa camp will allow for those of us that have been spurned by privacy violations, to keep the open mics out of our homes.


What makes you think you can't disable Alexa on Sonos devices? You most certainly can. In fact, Alexa is defaulted to off, you have to choose to activate it on Sonos devices.

Oh, and for those who think disabling Siri et al on their phone keeps it from listening, you may want to read this:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5816269/Its-not-paranoia-phone-really-listening-you.html

At least Sonos gives a nice visual cue as to when the mic is on.
Userlevel 7
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I quit reading about the new playbar when I got to the mikes, no physical disconnect switch no sale here.

In my opinion having a mic on a product like a Sonos One or Sonos Beam is no different to having a mic on your smart phone - apart from the fact that your smart phone mic is not hardwired and is entirely controlled by software and so could be activated remotely.


For you this could be true; however, there are millions of people that disable Siri, Hey Google, and Alexa. This should, according to most hardware and software agreements, keep the phone from listening in all of the time. So for me, it's apples and oranges.

Again, it's not a stretch to expect Sonos to provide a product that gives the user a reasonable expectation of privacy. For me, Alexa enabled devices breach my threshold for what I'm willing to put in my home. This doesn't have to be true for everyone, and hopefully the Alexa camp will allow for those of us that have been spurned by privacy violations, to keep the open mics out of our homes.


If there's mic on a device that is software controlled then it's technically possible to turn it on remotely, you don't need an AI enabled to do this.

Don't get me wrong, I understand your privacy concerns. All I'm saying is that you should have the same concern about laptops, tablets, smart phones etc. In my opinion, the Sonos One is slightly better than most devices in this regard.
Just a suggestion, but if you're getting a Sonos One for airplay support, you could simply skip the setup for Alexa and therefore the microphone is essentially disconnected always.
Just a suggestion, but if you're getting a Sonos One for airplay support, you could simply skip the setup for Alexa and therefore the microphone is essentially disconnected always.

Exactly. If you never enable Alexa (or Google in the future), the microphone is always off.