Somehow or another we humans found free and easy to be more valuable to us than personal privacy and security. We ate the sweet nectar with abandon and didn’t realize how much damage that diet of free and sweet could cause later.
So-called technology companies– Facebook, Google, Amazon, and their ilk– lured members of the human family into dark and dangerous digital alleys with the sweetness of free social connections, free search and free applications, and cheap goods. Now we find out some of those companies are just plain creepy.
Facebook and Google likely are responsible for Europe’s somewhat draconian GDPR— a legal attempt to regulate an unregulated industry responsible for collecting personal data from unwary citizens. Facebook tracks you online even if you don’t have a Facebook account. Google tracks you even if you don’t use Google or the company’s many free applications.
All that data collection is used to influence, manipulate, and get online users to think about various subjects differently than they would without Google and Facebook.
Amazon? The giant online retailer isn’t much different. Amazon sells products online, but some of the most popular– Amazon Echo and Alexa, the
talking stalking speaker duo, I’m looking at you– are downright creepy.
How creepy? Jason Del Rey on a problem with Amazon’s Echo:
Danielle, told her local TV news station that she and her husband were shocked when one of his employees, who lives in another state, contacted them to tell them he had received a message containing a recording of their private conversation.
But you knew Echo listened all the time, right?
Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.
So we should just trust that Amazon says is true? Mark Zuckerberg said there was hardly any Facebook interference in the 2016 general election and later wfound that millions of people were affected by tens of millions of fake news stories and advertisements.
OK, Amazon. What happened:
Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”.
Unlikely? But it happened.
Apple took some heat for making HomePod’s Siri a bit dumber than Siri on iPhone and iPad, but that decision seems rather disciplined now, right?
Amazon’s Echo listens all the time, then interprets some of what it hears as a query or command, and then takes action. When it works, great. When it does not, what then? At some point in the future these always on devices may be very good at recognizing specific voices and context, but it’s obvious we are not there yet.
So, kudos to Apple for not putting Siri into Alexa’s shoes. But isn’t it obvious that Google, Facebook, and Amazon have become rather creepy in recent years?
Maybe Europe’s GDPR should be considered the anti-creepy regulation.