(Virtually) No one should ever own an Echo or any other "voice assistant" product

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2017/12/06/can-you-hear-me-now.html


I don’t own one of these and I’ve turned off the “voice assistant” on my mobile devices.

Well there is no way you are carrying a surveillance device with you, you turned it off.


look I’m no fool, and when given the choice I prefer my privacy, but seriously how much harm is this? I don’t speak me social security number or credit card numbers or even passwords out loud. I have given a netflix password on the phone before but that is also insecure no? Roomba gets a map of my house…Alexa hears my tv shows, shouting matches, personal talk…but of what value is any of that and do I really care? I dare say I don’t but perhaps I am missing something?




I agree with @doctorow.
These systems do not do the voice parsing on the device itself, all voice data is shipped back to corporate servers for processing. Bug my house in exchange for minor utility? No thanks.
Maybe in a few years there will be a free open-source work-alike. Recently Mozilla started a speech to text project that looks promising: https://voice.mozilla.org/.


along with machine-learning-trained models that will help them pluck blackmail material, credit card numbers, and humiliating disclosures out of the stream of speech they’re capturing.

Machine learning is versatile indeed. It can be both frightfully incompetent and stunningly insightful, all depending on the needs of one’s story.

Even if you could get a machine-learning-trained model clever enough to pick up “blackmail material” and “humiliating disclosures”, you’d still have to get it to sift through petabytes of completely useless voice data first.


We have a strange believe that we own things. We believe we own who we are and what we do. I think all of this loss of privacy is actually just starting to show us that none of that was ever true.


I’d add folks with limited mobility to the list of users.

When coupled with smart bulbs & switches my amputee wife benefits from being able to turn things on/off without having to put on her leg.


Thanks for warning me that an Amazon Echo could be used in a homicide investigation. I was just about to kill someone, and I had totally forgotten about the silly thing. You saved me a lot of bother.


So remember - you have no right to an abortion or even to get a tattoo.


Note the tag for all the ‘x is bad’ stories this week on Gizmodo: “Grinch week”.


“But. . . but. . . those things are sooo cool!

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I’m not here to be Tin Foil Hat Man and convince you that companies like Amazon are spying on your every move

Yes, of course you are.

Being terrified of an Echo fits nicely in with BB’s tech paranoia.


A lot of the comments on /. were of this nature too, but it misses something important: it’s all about risk and reward.

Yes, a cell phone carries some risk of compromise (a lot, IMO), but it offers something in return.

What the Dot or the Echo or Alexis give in return is stupid and trivial, or at least of dubious value. I mean, seriously?

Being able to say “Hay, Alexa, what’s the weather outside?” and get an immediate response is of no interest to me (I can step outside or type three words into a web browser). Saying “Hey, Alexa, play TMBG” is of absolutely no interest to me – I really don’t mind hitting three buttons on my phone.

As far as I can tell, the benefit/risk ratio for a cell phone is about a billion times higher than one of these assistants. And honestly, I probably wouldn’t carry one of those if my job and spouse didn’t make me.


I don’t think it’s about terror (at least for me), as it being about tents and camels noses.

Just how much risk are we going to undertake for such trivial convenience? As it clear from my post above this, the Echo doesn’t hit my criteria. It may hit yours.

My main concern is a race to the bottom. It seems like a great many people will sacrifice any privacy for increasingly trivial amounts of convenience, and that’s a world that is a bit scary to me, even if the Echo isn’t particularly…


For (clearly) millions of people, yes, seriously. Having a passive voice assistant to serve up information on demand, send voicemails, order things, play music, set timers, and a dozen other things might seem “stupid and trivial” to you, but I’d say you are in the minority. It’s massively useful once you have one around.

I see zero risk in having something extremely helpful in the house.


How can i reconcile this? I’m one of those paranoids who accepts the Gospel of Snowden, has never had a social media account and only uses a cellphone that allows me to remove the battery due to my agreement with what Cory says in this article. So recently - like a few weeks ago - my spouse was diagnosed with early onset Alzeimers and besides the obvious fear that comes with that I’ve been looking for ways to make our lives easier. These privacy destroying tools might do just that. What do I do?


We’re going to have to agree to disagree on the “extremely helpful” part :slight_smile:


I’d say if it will make your spouse’s life better, it’s probably worth the risk. The risk is relatively small, and I say that as something of a privacy nut.


Other than being a patient responder for people with dementia, a product like this can be helpful for an elderly person who falls often.

My 74 year old (and increasingly less mobile) mother tripped and fell in her own kitchen two years ago and broke her elbow - she lay there for hours until a friend happened to come by. And she recently fell out of bed and gave herself a black eye on her bedside table.

Rather than buy her an ugly plastic button to wear around her neck that screams “I’m old and can’t take care of myself”, my sister and I got two Echo Dots to sit discreetly on different floors of her house.

Now, if she falls and is unable to help herself, she can ask Alexa to call us. I hate the idea of a listening device in all other circumstances, but until Life Alert makes a necklace or watch that is actually not heinous, this is our best option.