Some of us have one of the newfangled high-tech devices known as voice assistants. The best known are probably Apple Siri, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but this sector is hot and other companies are developing competitors. Many of us may not have taken the plunge yet but it may only be a matter of time.
Either way, as with any product or service steeped in today’s technology, privacy can be a matter of legitimate apprehension. We have heard both the warnings bordering on paranoia and the calming reassurances from corporate marketers on whether, or how much, we should worry about our privacy.
Are these devices spying on us? Does it extend beyond artificial intelligence and include human eyes on our personal information? What is being done with that data? Beyond the obvious threats to our privacy, what is not so obvious, happening behind the scenes and undisclosed? Even if privacy is promised, how secure is the data?
This can all get quite complicated, and quickly. With technology advancing at the speed of light, the average consumer’s limited knowledge and legal privacy protections in the relative dark ages, a modicum of concern seems appropriate. For those who already have such a device, learning more about it may be advised. For those considering a future purchase, privacy documentation makes a good addition to one’s due diligence.With technology advancing at the speed of light, the average consumer's limited knowledge and legal privacy protections in the relative dark ages, a modicum of concern seems appropriate. Click To Tweet
Taking a Close Look at Voice Assistants
The following article offers a lengthy and detailed look at the current state of voice assistants, their technical, practical and legal conditions. Some highlights:
“It’s starting to feel like Alexa and other voice assistants are destined to spy on us because that’s how the system was designed to work. These systems rely on machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve themselves over time. The new technology underpinning them is also currently prone to error, and even if they were perfect, the data-hungry companies that built them are constantly thinking of new ways to exploit users for profit. And where imperfect technology and powerful companies collide, the government tends to struggle so much with understanding what’s going on, that regulation seems like an impossible solution.”
There is no question tech like this can be exciting and fun and sometimes even productive. That makes it more difficult to balance our need to protect our privacy with a tendency to ignore that need. That one of the issues with these devices is unreliability doesn’t help in that equation.
“Anyone who has spent any time using Alexa knows that it doesn’t always work like this. Sometimes the software hears random noise, thinks it’s the wake word, and starts recording…
“These are the things Alexa heard that it should not have heard, commands that have been sent to Amazon’s servers and sent back because the machine decided the wake word had not been said or that Alexa had recorded audio when the user wasn’t giving a command.”
The Frightening Future
If the current situation is this fraught with uncertainty and potential threat, what does the not too distant future look like?
“But so far, it seems like an unavoidable truth that Alexa and other voice assistants are bound to spy on us, whether we like it or not. In a way, the technology is designed in such a way that it can’t be avoided, and in the future, without oversight, it will probably get worse.”
If you are interested in these devices, be sure to read this in full at The Terrible Truth About Alexa.