Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip

June 25th, 2018

Categories: Air Travel, Airlines, Eavesdropping, Hotels, Technology

Photo: quora.com

I’ve never wanted live-in help, not that I’ve had that option. I couldn’t relax or have an argument in peace. Unless I needed round the clock nursing, I wouldn’t want a non family member around all the time to observe my habits.

For this reason I cannot imagine inviting into my house a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Alexa, Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max or Sonos One. The speakers allow voice commands to control tech elements in a home, office or hotel room. Fans consider them as helpers; I see them as potential giant eavesdroppers by total strangers.

Photo: literallydarling.com

Amazon Echo boasts 15,000 skills. It can buy stuff on Amazon while it supports smart home devices. I’m perfectly happy to log on to Amazon if I need something or open Facebook on my smartphone, but I’m clearly alone. According to techcrunch.com, 39 million Americans own one.

Strangers already know far too much about us. In “What the Airline Knows About the Guy in Seat 12A,” Scott McCartney wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “Airlines know a lot about you, from date of birth and home address to travel patterns, vacation preferences, beverage purchases and whether your last flight was good or bad.”

Photo: buffered.co

In the same newspaper, Laura Stevens wrote: “Echo home speakers mistakenly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in the owners’ contact list, an incident that raises questions about the security of such voice-operated devices.” The title and subtitle of her article say a lot: “Amazon Alexa-Powered Device Recorded and Shared User’s Conversation Without Permission–Amazon said the incident involved a series of misunderstandings, with words being confused for commands.”

Kim Komando, the computer/digital lifestyle expert, shared a news brief on WCBS radio last week announcing that as a result of a deal between Amazon and Marriot-owned hotels, there will soon be an Alexa smart speaker in every room. You can ask it to have housekeeping bring you more towels, make dinner reservations and have easy access to all hotel amenities. It’s a sales win for Amazon but not so hot for your privacy. She didn’t sound so tickled about the “advancement” either.

Stevens concluded: “‘The privacy side has not been fully fleshed out with digital assistants,’ said Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures, a venture-capital firm specializing in tech research. Digital assistants still need more training to interpret commands and language more perfectly, he said, something that consumers should consider with the devices in their homes. ‘Eventually we’re going to get it figured out’ but it’s not there yet, he said.”

Do you really want a cake on your airline seat should you be traveling on your birthday or would you find that creepy? Do you mind giving up privacy so you can say, “Turn on my TV” or “Get me more towels,” instead of clicking on the remote or picking up the phone in your hotel room? Would you be tempted when the technicians have a better handle on ensuring that there would be no glitches in transmitting your commands or would the privacy issue still prevent you from jumping in to join the smart speaker craze?

Photo: mai-assoc.com

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7 Responses to “Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip”

  1. ASK Said:

    My answer is an emphatic NO! Never in a million years. Can you imagine being awakened by your refrigerator in the dead of night telling you the milk is going sour? Or the TV suddenly turning on to tell you your favorite program has been cancelled?

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    I didn’t even think of refrigerators going haywire, though I know someone who years ago couldn’t open her refrig twice in a row…a computer would lock her out, so why not have it speak to me–at any time of day would be terrible–I’d jump three feet hearing a strange voice in my home. Chances are, therefore, I wouldn’t have enough smart devices around to make it worthwhile. Plus I go nuts when a website warns me that it will place a cookie on my computer….this speaker gadget is me telling marketers when I do what…golly Moses. NO!

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Yes, I mind. I have no problem getting my own things, and NO, no birthday cake on the seat. I’ll celebrate once landed safely!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    What constructive thing will people do with all the time they think they are saving by not having to click on a TV or turn out the light? Is that time worth privacy lost? Like you, I don’t think so.

  5. Protius Said:

    What happened to me yesterday perhaps best illustrates how I feel about machines that talk.

    Over thirty years ago my wife introduced me to USAA, then much less well known. They have provided us with wonderful service in many ways for the many years since then, but sadly even this fine company has found the “replace people with machines” solution to achieve “better” service through technology.

    Yesterday, when I called to report a lost credit card, I got one of those accused recorded voices which told me what to do. The next thing I knew, I was deep into some marketing scam where I had supposedly won a ten day free Caribbean cruise, and all I had to do to secure it was pay USAA a small, like $60, fee. It then took me an hour and a half to find a human being at USAA to extricate me from this technological nightmare with my credit intact.

    It took me another 24 hours to regain my composure sufficiently to be able to post this comment on your post.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Protius,

    My guess is that you won’t be introducing to your home any smart TV, coffee pot, fridge, stove, window treatments or for that matter, anything smart, especially a smart speaker!

    What a story.

    I wonder if the tip I learned years ago would work at USAA–to hit 0 a billion times until you get a voice.

    Did you check that your credit card wasn’t charged $60 for the “free” cruise, no doubt during hurricane season when there are 100 people on a ship that holds 6,000 and if you opted for a room larger than a small closet you’d add a few $1,000 to the freebie?

  7. Protius Said:

    The credit card was blocked and could not be charged.

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