Posts Tagged ‘Alexa’

Service of I’m Not Weeping: Feeble Crises Due To Tech Blip

Thursday, December 9th, 2021


Image by Ashish Bogawat from Pixabay 

I couldn’t tell if Sarah E. Needleman was being sarcastic when she chose the examples for her article “Amazon Outage Disrupts Lives, Surprising People About Their Cloud Dependency,” in the Wall Street Journal.

Disrupts lives? She reported that as a result there was one couple who had to manually feed their cats “like in ancient times,” the husband said, because their automatic cat feeder didn’t work.  A man complained that he had to use a broom and dustpan to clean up crumbs from the muffin he dropped on the kitchen floor because his Roomaba robot vacuum was disabled. Another felt lonely because he couldn’t ask Alexa for news updates or the weather. Alexa’s disconnect disrupted a woman’s day because she couldn’t ask it to turn on and off her lights. In addition, as the outage impacted Zappos, she couldn’t track a package.

Note: None of these people were disabled and dependent on technology to literally work for them. So I am not weeping.

About the December 7 cloud interruption Needleman wrote that “Amazon Web Services is the largest cloud-computing service provider in the U.S. The outage of much of its network lasted most of the day and disrupted several of the tech giant’s services, as well as many of its corporate customers’ websites and apps.

“It affected the company’s videoconferencing tool Chime and its home-security system Ring, plus many third-party applications that sit on top of Amazon’s cloud, including Ticketmaster and streaming services from Walt Disney Co. and Netflix Inc.

Echo smart home box
Image by hamburgfinn from Pixabay  

“For many consumers, it was an awakening to how many internet-enabled devices they now have in their homes and how much even some of their most basic daily needs depend on a connection to the cloud.”

Basic daily needs? What happened to food and shelter?

My health insurance company tried to get me to download an invoice when in the past they’ve mailed one with months worth of coupons. I was burned by linking to a fake document so instead I called to confirm what I thought was in the document.

This insurance is solely for the old and the ancient. I wonder if I’m alone in requesting paper for what doesn’t fit in an email. I’m not a total luddite: I’m happy to access my bank accounts online but I’m the one seeking the information and inserting my user names and passwords.

As technology surges on, I’ve noticed a vigorous trend for old fashioned marketing at the same time. This is the first year in ages I’ve been inundated by catalogs. I photographed the ones that came in just the last few weeks–photo below. I haven’t ordered from a catalog in a dog’s age. Can’t figure out the timing of this approach.

Are you addicted to your cloud and app-connected devices? If the reporter is serious and the lives of the owners of these devices are “disrupted” when they don’t work, impacting their “basic daily needs,” what does this say about the direction of our society? Should one company have so much “power” over people’s lives?

Service of Amazon Moving into Your Home & Hotel: American Passivity is Creepy

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Photo: forum.phish.net

Get the feeling that Big Brother is closing in and that our lives are under an increasingly powerful magnifying glass while we join in like gleeful children without weighing the ramifications? Recently I wrote about Walmart’s gaining access to homes when no one’s there to deliver groceries to the fridge. In June 2015 I wrote “Service of strangers knowing more about you than your family does.” Today I cover Amazon’s plan to “get more people using its services and locked into its Alexa ecosystem,” as Christopher Mims wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

In “Amazon’s Plan to Move In to Your Next Apartment Before You Do –The tech giant has figured out a way to get millions of its smart speakers into homes without consumers lifting a finger, as property managers bring in Alexa to manage tenants,” Mims reported that already 25 percent of Americans own some kind of smart speaker, the lion’s share belonging to Amazon.

Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo speaker. Photo: amazon.com

The brand’s Alexa Smart Properties team, a little known part of its Alexa division, is “working on partnerships with homebuilders, property managers and hoteliers to push millions of Alexa smart speakers into domiciles all across the U.S.” The division offers hardware and software at a discount as well as “new ways for property managers to harvest and use data.” Voice based wish lists and shopping habits of an increasing number of users will propel Amazon ahead of the competition in the rental and new home construction market according to Mims.

“Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware and services in the first place.”

Alexa, which some call a personal assistant, responds to its owners voice and carries out tasks. Echo is one of Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled speakers.

Mims reminded readers that renters, buyers and hotel guests “may not be aware of all the parties monitoring their smart-home interactions.”

He continued “  ‘We envision a day when you can say ‘Hey Alexa, pay my rent,’ and it will transfer that money from a resident’s bank account,’ says PayLease chief executive Dirk Wakeham.”

Great: Now everyone knows your bank account number and how much rent you pay.

Thanks to smart phone technology, property managers also benefit: They save money, wrote Mims, because they can easily cut back air conditioning and heating in vacant apartments; provide access to units by contractors and change door locks.

Photo: yelp.com

Americans appear to be walking the plank on this one without blinking twice. I witnessed another example of passivity at a favorite store in the suburbs  last weekend. A long line at checkout developed an offshoot and nobody at the juncture said, “The line ends over there.” I went to customer service asking for a staffer to direct the line and sort out the confusion. The woman turned her back on me saying “I know.” Such acceptance makes me nervous. I fear that Americans are setting themselves up to be whacked for takeover by nefarious souls–like a golf ball on a tee.

Add surveillance to passivity and the sum is more than creepy, don’t you think? Are city folks more inclined than suburbanites to speak up in public? Do people signing up for or playing ball with smart speakers–installed where they will live or visit–realize what they are giving up? If your hotel room had a smart speaker/spy would you ask that it be disconnected?

Photo: pixels.com

Service of Nosey Smart Speakers That Gossip

Monday, June 25th, 2018

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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