The latest generation of chatbot toys listen to your kids 24/7 and send their speech to a military contractor

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“Sir, we’ve got an update on how poopy Cindy’s little brother is. And also she likes Brandon and not Steven now.” ~ NSA Headquarters



A military contractor. Really.

Would you be surprised to hear I bought coffee from a military contractor this morning? There are Starbucks on some bases, after all.


Yeah, except “constant listening” doesn’t work this way. The reason things like “OK Google”, “Hey Siri”, “Xbox On” and so-on can work is not because the device is constantly sending everything you say up to some mysterious government entity, but instead because the device when in a low power mode has a special handling mode for a specific sequence of phonemes to make it “wake up” and perform further processing.

Think about it. If a device was constantly listening, processing, and streaming all audio data around you, your battery would be dead within hours if that not to mention the amount of additional network overhead this would cause.

I am not even going to touch how disingenuous the whole “military contractor” thing is. (ETA I guess I touched it in my subsequent post. My bad.)

Look, I completely get and understand the crux of this article about privacy, data retention, COPPA violations, uninformed parental consent, what happens to speech data, and so on. This is something important to discuss. You know what isn’t constructive? FUD about how these devices are eavesdropping on everything you do in your home and sending it to the government contractor.


Google’s parent company Alphabet does military contracting. Better stop using Google. Apple and Microsoft do military contracting. Better stop using those products. I mean if you think about it, pretty much any large business is likely to have some sort of military or governmental contract going on.


:scream: My Amish brethren were right all along! Shun modernism!


You just wait. When the Trumpocalypse hits and we’re back to using horse and buggy transport, who is the government gonna call?


Disingenuous use of “contractor” to increase the scare factor?

Spells “i-Que” how the company brands it, but goes with “Ios” to put a finger in Apple’s eye?

Keep on bein’ Cory!


Someone who understands semaphore?

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The is at least the second time Doctorow has made this bullshit assertion. Yes your phone is listening some or all the time (depending on how you’ve set it up. But it’s listening LOCALLY, and only listening for the trigger phrase. It’s not stored and it’s not sent anywhere, until you’re spoken that trigger phrase.

This is obvious to anyone who stops and thinks about it for half a second. If everything was sent to the remote voice interpreter, there would be no need to train your device to understand your trigger phrase. But you do, because your device is using a fairly simple pattern matching scheme, that’s only looking for a single phrase, and is not trying to interpret word meanings. And if everything said was being transmitted, your wireless bill would be off the chart.

I assume Doctorow will follow his usual pattern and refuse to retract his false statements.


Isn’t that from Wuthering Heights?


:raised_hand: - H - E - Y - space - S - I - R - I - space - space


What you say is true. But it is not the full story. Yes that is the way it is supposed to work. But there isn’t much stopping it from being “smarter” than that. Instead of just waking up on specific phoneme patterns, it could wake up on any phoneme pattern. It might miss the first word or two, but that’s not terribly important. Such a mode would not be a major battery drain, since most of the time no one will be speaking.

Combine that with a terms of service that has no set terms and the ad biz’s insatiable hunger for moar data and I do not think it is unreasonable to assume that such toys (and other digital assistants) will end up eavesdropping 24x7.

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Nuance develops products for attorneys and doctors; both of whom are legally and professionally required to be paranoid. How exactly does Nuance assuage their concerns?

It’s very possible that this"no-eavesdropping" option comes at a significant cost, but such details would be helpful.


But it doesn’t. And for that to work, it would have to be trained to the speaker’s voice saying that specific phrase, so it’s hardly something that could be done surreptitiously.

There are enough actual security issues, without making up ones that don’t exist.


I am this close to deciding that Boing Boing is a fake-news site, at least when Cory is posting.



If our smartphones really did send everything all the time to a 3rd party, imagine the data and battery consequences. :slight_smile:

Taken a step further, the sentence is worded badly as well - Siri, AFAIK, doesn’t send anything to nuance, all that data stays in-house at Apple. YMMV about how you feel about that, but of all the choices they’re the ones profiting the least out of your shopping habits (for example), or making revenue from your ad choices, etc.

I also wonder how much longer it will be that way. Surely the whole “send this back” system is in large part because the storage/horsepower for the voice recognition system isn’t quite there yet on one’s phone. I’m sure the mfrs. would much rather be able to advertise those functions for use even without data access when needed, after all


The news isn’t fake. The toys DO listen to your kids and send data back to a corporation that does happen to be a defense contractor and do so without informed consent. The news is real. Cory’s take on it seems a bit over-the-top, at least in how he’s chosen to word it in some of the examples.

That’s anything but “fake”, though.