We all know that Big Tech is watching us even more than Big Brother is, but do you know the extent of that surveillance?
Is it really a good idea to make your home a “smart home”? Read this before you decide.
One Washington Post reporter was shocked when he discovered how much data was collected and shared with Amazon. He found that the Amazon smart home device, the Echo, was recording conversations — even dialogue from television shows — without the use of the “wake word” and the kicker is that Alexa keeps those recordings indefinitely unless you manually delete them. Deleting the individual recordings is easier said than done.
What can you do to stop Alexa from recording? Amazon’s answer is straight out of the Facebook playbook: “Customers have control,” it says – but the product’s design clearly isn’t meeting our needs. You can manually delete past recordings if you know exactly where to look and remember to keep going back. You cannot actually stop Amazon from making these recordings, aside from muting the Echo’s microphone (defeating its main purpose) or unplugging the darn thing.
Amazon has said that it has improved the accuracy of “Alexa” as a wake word over the past year by 50 percent. While that’s a start, is it really worth it to hand over your data to Amazon so you can hear terrible jokes?
Why is Amazon keeping an archive of voice recording? To improve products, it says.
But, despite Jeff Bezos owning both Amazon and the Washington Post, Geoffrey A. Fowler, who wrote the piece, wasn’t pulling any punches.
Fowler reminds us that Amazon employees are listening to the archive of voice recordings in order to train artificial intelligence.
Amazon says it keeps our recordings to improve products, not to sell them. (That’s also a Facebook line.) But anytime personal data sticks around, it’s at risk. Remember the family that had Alexa accidentally send a recording of a conversation to a random contact? We’ve also seen judges issue warrants for Alexa recordings.
Alexa’s voice archive made headlines most recently when Bloomberg discovered Amazon employees listen to recordings to train its artificial intelligence. Amazon acknowledged some of those employees also have access to location information for the devices that made the recordings.
Saving our voices is not just an Amazon phenomenon. Apple, which is much more privacy-minded in other aspects of the smart home, also keeps copies of conversations with Siri. Apple says voice data is assigned a “random identifier and is not linked to individuals” – but exactly how anonymous can a recording of your voice be? I don’t understand why Apple doesn’t give us the ability to say not to store our recordings.
So, if the device is listening to us all the time, making recordings, archiving that information, and the Amazon employees have access to the location of the device — how is this different than bugging someone? Spoiler alert: it isn’t.
I’m not the only one who thinks saving recordings is too close to bugging. Last week, the California State Assembly’s privacy committee advanced an Anti-Eavesdropping Act that would require makers of smart speakers to get consent from customers before storing recordings. The Illinois Senate recently passed a bill on the same issue. Neither are much of a stretch: Requiring permission to record someone in private is enshrined in many state laws.
“They are giving us false choices. We can have these devices and enjoy their functionality and how they enhance our lives without compromising our privacy,” Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R, the bill’s sponsor, told me. “Welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism.”
“Surveillance capitalism” — isn’t that one helluva phrase?
Amazon be like:
Fowler wondered what other data was being collected by other “smart” devices.
Do you have a “smart” thermostat? A Sonos speaker system? A “smart” garage door? A “smart” home security system? Then your data is being collected. Guess where it’s going?
If you guessed back to Amazon, then you deserve a prize.
I found enough personal data to make even the East German secret police blush.
When I’m up for a midnight snack, Google knows. My Nest thermostat, made by Google, reports back to its servers’ data in 15-minute increments about not only the climate in my house, but also whether there’s anyone moving around (as determined by a presence sensor used to trigger the heat). You can delete your account, but otherwise Nest saves it indefinitely.
Then there are lights, which can reveal what time you go to bed and do almost anything else. My Philips Hue-connected lights track every time they’re switched on and off – data the company keeps forever if you connect to its cloud service (which is required to operate them with Alexa or Assistant).
Every kind of appliance now is becoming a data-collection device. My Chamberlain MyQ garage opener lets the company keep – again, indefinitely – a record of every time my door opens or closes. My Sonos speakers, by default, track what albums, playlists or stations I’ve listened to, and when I press play, pause, skip or pump up the volume. At least they only hold on to my sonic history for six months.
And now the craziest part: After quizzing these companies about data practices, I learned most are sharing what’s happening in my home with Amazon, too. Our data is the price of entry for devices that want to integrate with Alexa. Amazon’s not only eavesdropping – it’s tracking everything happening in your home.
Source: CT Post
Fowler said that there were so many recordings that he was able to make a folk song out of it.
That’s doubly terrifying.
We are literally paying companies to bug our homes and sell our data to other companies to target us with advertising.
So, really, this is what’s happening:
You have zero privacy with these “smart” devices.
If there were such a thing as “late stage capitalism” — this would be it.
But it isn’t the end of capitalism.
I’m not big on government regulation, but these companies haven’t been straight with us about our ability to consent to the collection of our data and what companies use it for. Often times, we cannot opt out of the data collection and still use the service.
Facebook does this, too, and they are egregious in the way they collect data, and they’re not so careful with how they handle the private information of customers. We all know that they’ve got an anti-conservative bias, to boot — they were willing to “collude” with the DNC to help get Hillary elected.
There’s no love lost between President Trom and Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos. Although it still isn’t exactly clear why Bezos bought WaPo, he did say that “certain institutions have a very important role in making sure there is light” and believed that The Washington Post was one of those institutions. This, coupled with the new slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness” and the blatant anti-Trump bias might just indicate a possible motive — but, hey, maybe that’s my own tinfoil hat conspiracy theory.
What isn’t conspiracy is the way that Big Tech is collecting our data and using it for their own benefit — including marketing products to us.
Maybe it’s time that the government steps in and gives us our privacy back.
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