Why Would You Want an Amazon Echo and Who Else is Listening


Amazon EchoHow do you feel about a device that is listening to everything that is being said in your home or office and is connected to the Internet? Especially in this age of cyber terrorism,  when we know that criminals already use tools like Facebook to target people with easy to steal and easy to sell assets.

How do you feel when Gmail bombards you with advertisements for products you have just bought or vacation location deals when you have just returned home from that place? Besides being a waste of time because you already have those things, it shows how Google (in return for giving you free email software and storage) has access to everything you write using their freeware.

So when Amazon had their massive sale on Prime Day, I thought about the Amazon Echo and wondered what I would do with it if I had one and why.

I very occasionally use Siri to save a reminder, a note, perhaps in the car to reduce the risk of having pen and paper in my hand when the lights change, or illegally using my phone because of the inherent risks, even at a traffic light. No joke, my wife has had 2 cars she was driving totalled, both while she was legally stationary at a red light. I’m not saying she could have avoided them, she couldn’t, but the people who hit our cars were certainly not paying attention.

So when I take Siri, and I have to admit it has improved in it’s ability to understand my Kiwi accent, the number of times I have said one thing and Siri has randomly rung a phone number for someone I had no desire to speak with and the fact that Siri has even randomly responded to a sound it heard, when I hadn’t even touched my phone is interesting.

I would love to have an automated home. When I got home last night from dinner in the freezing cold city it was around 6 degrees inside our house and I said to my wife how nice it would be if I could have turned on the heat pump via my phone. It has a timer, but we didn’t know when we would be home and I’m sure we could get an electrician to wire a remote switch into that circuit without having to buy a new heat pump, but I digress.

When everything I write makes a permanent footprint on the Internet and the supplier of that service has access to it all in order to ‘assist me’, I struggle with why I would want another device listening to everything I say.

Imagine living in a country like North Korea where you can be put in jail or worse for just saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then having a device that YOU PURCHASED providing access to every word that you said in the ‘privacy of your own home’.

Now I know that Amazon is not a spy agency, they can’t afford for this product to risk your privacy because if it did, they could go broke, but they do want to know what you are interested in and devices like these are supposed to be your personal digital assistant. I used to have an executive assistant in one of my jobs and she knew what I wanted or needed often before I did. It was awesome because I knew and trusted her. this device has to listen, even for the Alexa command to work, so technically it is listening to every word, even if in theory it is identifying most as not relevant.

The biggest issue for me with devices like this, which was also why I digressed a little with the heatpump, is that hacking or cyber crime is easy if you know how,or are prepared to pay someone to do it for you. Whether it is hacking someone’s wireless internal garage door or front door, checking Facebook to see who has a boat in the their back yard AND is on holiday overseas is really simple, because most people don’t know how to or don’t want privacy, because they don’t realise the risk.

I read a CBS story this morning about how some cheap Chinese mobiles are apparently surreptitiously sending information from the mobiles back to China using firmware that was in the phones from the factory.

You could say that Alexa can only be woken by people using the word Alexa, then it starts listening for instructions. So what is the first thing that is going to happen when you buy one of these devices? You’re going to tell your friends about it and show it off, so you are going to be using the word frequently and waking it up frequently and it will start listening.

For now I think I’d at least like to be able to use the fingerprint recognition on my phone and tap a button to turn on an appliance if I can’t be bothered standing up to do something like turn on a light. I am happy that I can have a wireless remote system with security algorithms to do that. I’m not sure I want Amazon or a hacker to be able to listen to everything said in my home and then using data mining tools to look for keywords or information that could be used by criminals, or by advertisers to send me more info I don’t want.

How about you?

 

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3,000 Teen Deaths from Texting and Driving


A study done by the Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New York, revealed that drinking and driving resulted in the death’s of 2,700 teens in the US, compared to 3,000 from texting and driving.

How about a quick, honest but anonymous poll:

I was listening to the Peggy Smedley Show this morning while cleaning the bathroom and enjoyed some great interviews in her Distracted Driving Month series. The topics were great, everything from the value of reversing cameras through to why car manufacturers are putting social media technology into their cars.

Anyway, a subject that peaked my interest was comparisons of factors impacting on or causing accidents.Talking or texting on the phone is one that that police and others who examine the results of motor accidents look for by default these days.

Peggy quoted a study (can’t remember which university) where they found that people with a blood alcohol level of .08 performed better behind the wheel than people who were using their mobile phone. If you want more detail, listen to Peggy’s back shows on her website or on iTunes, the latest ones being about Debunking Myths about Cellphones and Driving.

Just putting that into context, most people think that dialing a number (I only dial on my hands-free via voice commands with  Siri, or not at all these days) or sending a txt isn’t a big deal. I see ‘professional drivers’ holding their mobile up to their ear pretty much daily. One would assume they are sober, and mentally alert. I was also going to say relaxed, but if they were relaxed, they probably wouldn’t feel the need to take a personal risk, let alone knowing they are breaking the law; so you could surmise that they are already distracted and their minds are not on the road. Yet the study showed that drivers using their mobile were more distracted and less able to perform than those who were at a blood alcohol level where, according to a Blood Alcohol Chart on Wikipedia, they were at the upper range and would be experiencing:

  • Impaired reasoning
  • Reduced depth perception
  • Reduced peripheral vision
  • Reduced glare recovery; and behaviors including
  • Blunted feelings
  • Dis-inhibition; and
  • Extroversion

SheepI really enjoy listening to music when I drive and I have a full subscription to Spotify. I love it. My iPhone FM Transmitter sends it to my car stereo, while charging my phone. I like that. I have been guilty of occasionally looking down at my iPhone for the name of an artist or to skip a track. Our maximum legal driving speed on motorways and highways in New Zealand is 100kmph. Often that is on highways where kids play or cycle on the side of the road. All it takes is for a ball to bounce onto the road, or wandering stock to change things in an instant.

So I thought I’d have a look at the numbers and went to the Unitarium online speed calculator. I worked out that if my eyes were on my phone for 3 seconds (doesn’t sound like much) whilst driving at a legal 100km per hour, my eyes would have left the road  and I would have been oblivious to what was happening on it for 30 meters!

Have you ever done that?