ALEXA AND ITS CAPABILITIES
Virtual Assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa have rapidly grown in popularity over the past few years. The idea of an AI powered assistant that can basically control your entire house if you set it up to do so. Here is a short list of core uses for this thing:
– Streaming music and podcasts from platforms such as iHeartRadio, Amazon Music, Pandora and more.
– Looking up the answers to questions using a search engine
– Setting timers and alarms
– Adding items to your to-do list or shopping list
– Playing news headlines
– Controlling compatible smart home gadgets such as lights and thermostats
The more capable these virtual assistants become the more control over your life and daily routine they can have. A lot of people have voiced privacy concerns given, how Amazon has been known to handle the data of its users. Now Amazon is making another attempt to grab as much personal data on you as possible with their latest idea. As of right now Alexa is only supposed to begin listening to you in response to a “wake word” such as “Alexa”, “Amazon”, or “Echo” depending on how personal you want to be with this machine. Amazon wishes to have Alexa listen to everything 24/7 in order to improve the experience. At least that is what they say.
The newer Alexa devices come with even more skills.
AMAZON TRIES TO JUSTIFY RECORDING 24/7
Some say these virtual assistants are already recording 24/7 and that the current need for a wake word is only meant to lull customers into a false sense of security by making them believe they have more control than they actually do. But in order to describe the implications of Amazon’s desires we will assume this isn’t the case.
Amazon is justifying the idea of Alexa listening all the time by pointing to multiple performance drawbacks of the need for wake words. They claim that future AI powered assistants will be able to provide more help when armed with more information leading up to the request.
For example if you were talking about booking a seat at your favorite restaurant next Tuesday. You would ask “Alexa, do I have anything on my schedule next Tuesday?” It would respond: “No, would you like me to book a seat at the restaurant you were discussing and add it to your calendar?”
Because Alexa heard you talking about your favorite restaurant it would be able to streamline the request you were going to make. For an Alexa device of today to handle such a task it would require three separate requests. So Amazon’s big selling point on this is better performance at the cost of your privacy.
Many Amazon Alexa users would be very alarmed by news such as this. While Amazon has not explicitly stated that they will make these changes to Alexa, this just highlights just how bad things are getting in the world of personal privacy. Amazon would have a lot more data from their customers to misuse and sell to third party advertisers without consent. All of that data sitting on Amazon’s servers would also invite cyber criminals. Information exchanged in the privacy of someone’s home can be very sensitive. It doesn’t need to be sitting on a server somewhere because your personal assistant recorded it.
It’s one thing to have Alexa for the purposes of playing music or the radio or setting timers. It is another thing entirely to have an Alexa recording everything it hears and sending that information back to Amazon. It is also astounding how many people use Alexa to handle their daily to-do lists. Do you really want Amazon knowing what you do everyday? This is a serious slippery slope that everyone needs to be aware of.