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

Sure. If you have no interest in the things it can do, it wouldn’t be helpful to you.

To someone like my parents, who can’t understand how to use Google, being able to yell “what’s the news?” or “what’s the weather forecast?” or “who played the lead character in Titanic?” from across the room has been extremely helpful to them.

And for me, being able to say “play some TMBG” and have it come out of speakers and fill a room, versus come out of my little phone speakers, is much nicer.


This is an interesting use-case, because it ratchets up both the utility and the risk.

It’s utility in this case is pretty clear and probably needs no comment.

The risk? Well, it’s pretty well known that 70+ people are at an extremely higher risk than the general population for cons (ie., confidence swindles). I don’t know why this is particularly, but it’s clearly the case.

Imagine what a con-person who had hacked into one of these and listen to a day’s random conversation could do?


Yes. You’re missing that while you can’t right now think of how or why that would be of value to someone scummy at some point, this doesn’t mean someone else can’t come up with that.

Plus, there’s always the potential for sheer griefing.


Someone might break into your house through the window, so get rid of windows? Turns out there are other ways to tap someone with the use of the echo, so what are you really preventing?


Amazon Echo - Do Not Want! There are open-source projects, but they’re emulating the front end Echo/Google/etc box and still feeding the voice back to Amazon/Google to process.

The hard problem is speaker-independent voice recognition (which is still hard) vs. speaker-trained voice recognition (like Dragon Dictate and similar products have done for years, with accuracy rates that depend on how much desktop horsepower you’ve got. (These days? We’ve got lots of spare desktop horsepower, unless you count the GPU, in which case we’ve got lots more.)
There’s also the issue of parsing the meaning once you’ve decoded the speech (but you can use limited vocabularies to deal with most of that “Box! Upstairs Lights On!” “Box! Play more Nickelback!” etc.

I do know people who’ve got mobility limitations who’ve found them really useful for turning lights on and off.


Turns out there are other ways to tap someone with the use of the echo, so what are you really preventing?

Well, as someone who ran security for a large university for some years, I have to give you the stock repose: it reduces surface area for attack vectors.


But Corey, what do you really think about this? :wink:

Seriously, although I myself have no desire to have a device monitoring me in my own home (no internet fridge for me!), it’s naive to imagine that the majority of other people feel the same way. There’s been a ground shift in perception, and nowadays it seems that the most folks, particularly younger folks, not only are unperturbed to broadcast what might be construed as personal very publicly but actually feel compelled to do so.

Perhaps there will be a reaction against this, but if so I doubt that it will be because of the very reasonable points laid out here. If people reject having Alexa or Siri or whatever in their home it will be because they have begun to reject the whole larger model. And I don’t see it happening yet.


I got an echo dot as a gift. Does anyone have interesting ideas what to do with? I can work with a soldering iron. Is there anything in it worth ripping out? Fun hacking ideas?


Yeah - my mum in law is quadriplegic. Siri is very useful indeed for her.


I agree with you in that I have zero desire for these gadgets myself (and my house is otherwise quite connected with internet connected security, thermostat, lights, etc.) but I don’t feel quite so strongly as you do. If others find utility in them, good for them - but I won’t be super sympathetic when they do get hacked and inconvenience them or worse.

I’d love a fully joined-up hardware and software integration platform but it isn’t going to come from Google or Amazon and I’d prefer it isn’t voice-controlled because my experience is that those interfaces are garbage with any kind of accents beyond mid-western or Californian. I lost trust in Google years ago for anything beyond a search engine (and even then I’m not logged in). Amazon is a great and useful retailer, but being that they will have an insatiable desire for marketing information.

I’m not buying any listening device with a cheap, shitty mono speaker in it nor am I using Siri - but if you do find them useful, then good luck to you. Hopefully these early platforms will lead to something that is more useful to people like me and Cory.

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One of the best gifts we received last year was the google whatever it’s called. We were able to return it to the big box electronics store that I would normally avoid like a leper colony and trade it in for a whole bunch of useful gear I probably never would have gone out of my way to get. Bonus: we also
disposed of a really shitty way to experience music!


While I would never recommend a healthy, fit person have an always-on listening device in their pocket or home, the Amazon Echo Dot has given a stroke survivor in my family a wonderful improvement to his quality of life. It’s a fantastic assistive technology for the disabled.


Hmmm…(rightfully) concerned about an Echo but not the various “voice assistants” in your own pocket?? That doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Let’s be straight up w/ ourselves: it’s not just the stand alone device (Echoes and whatnot), but also your phone, or laptop, or whatever device you have w/ a mic, as well as various apps on those devices that gain permission to your mic…and who the hell knows knows what else. Listening appears to be a thing these days, and seems to even be a bit of a fad w/ some devs hard up for data-driven marketing. All that aside, if you choose to think that listening is BS, just remember that it’s WAY easier to intercept text than sound bytes!

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That’s a good question. The Echo Dot we got last year sits unopened in a downstairs cupboard. The kids can’t believe we haven’t set it up, but maybe we should let them tear it apart.


Came here just to post this lol


I’m as cautious with security as the next guy but I don’t buy the extra panic around these devices.

The Echo isn’t always sending recordings back to Amazon. All security teardowns I’ve seen agree with Amazon’s assertion that it only sends sound recordings after it is woken up with a trigger word.

Some people are saying that none of the processing is done on the device, that’s correct, but the “waking” of the device is done offline by recognising “Alexa” (or “Echo” or “Amazon”…). Try it yourself: disconnect your router and then say “Alexa” it’ll wake up but tell you that it can’t connect.

I’ve yet to see a compelling argument that would not also apply to having a computer with a microphone and closed-source OS or trusting your private emails to gmail.


The article is wrong. These devices don’t transmit all the audio they hear back to servers. They only do that after the “wake” word (hey Google or Alexa). The device listens for that wake word then transmits the sentence after it to the server for processing. The device is always listening locally (it has to) but the servers never hear regular conversations.


You can use the service IFTTT to have the Echo trigger arbitrary webhooks so there are endless possibilities.

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Most of you have probably seen this one as well: