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


Alexa, Initiate hyperbaric oxygen stress procedure.


I know its bad but I would buy an Echo or similar if it could be skinned as Hal.

“Open the garage door Hal”

Sorry Michael I can’t do that

Well I’ll go in through the garden gate then

Without your keys you may find that a little bit… difficult

(arms explosive bolts)


This sounds like just more scary ranting to drum up a few v page views.

Alexa is always listening, but it’s not always paying attention. It doesn’t send anything anywhere until you wake it up. And it’ll let you know it’s been woken up as well. So unless you’re waking up Alexa and then reciting all your passwords and credit card numbers, no one is going to be able to hack Amazon and get your info that way.

Plus if you shop on Amazon they already have your credit card and address on file. To date, I don’t think Amazon has had any major security issues.

And anyone who thinks a digital assistant that is voice activated is just some fad is either incredibly naive or is just spouting lies in order to try and justify a very weak argument


“Wrapped boxed present as disguised gift card or cash” is one of my mom’s Christmas tactics - she doesn’t know what to buy, but likes seeing us open packages, so she buys something and gives it along with the receipt knowing full well we’ll return it. I know opinions on this vary widely, but for myself I’d rather she cut out two unnecessary trips to the store (one on her part, one on mine).


I’m curious about the people who use this to control music/TV - how do you do that? Don’t you have to go to the music player or TV and pause it or at least decrease the volume enough so that the thing can hear your voice commands? (And if you’re already using the player’s controls, why not then just continue to use them instead of clearing your throat, trying to figure out how to phrase and enunciate a command, and routing it through remote servers?)

I wonder how much the traffic noise, neighbors, TV, noisy kids, meyowling cat, etc. would affect it.

The life alert and disability examples upthread are good examples of where a voice interface could be useful, but I can’t really think of others where it would be less of a hassle than a non-voice interface.



“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that. Please try again.”


They’re very handy as the hub for controlling all sorts of things. I use it daily not just to play music (through attached speakers) but to control the TV, dim the lights, send voice messages to my family, make shopping lists that’re sent to my phone to have when I go to the store, set timers as I cook, and set calendar reminders. A housemate has a doohickey we haven’t set up yet that uses the Echo to control (ironically) a security camera that we can check from an app and monitor the house while away.

It’s surprisingly good at listening through the music and chatter to hear what’s said after its keyword is spoken. I can have it at top volume but once I say “Alexa…” the music lowers and its’s able to get instructions well.

I’ve used it like that quite a bit, yes. “Alexa, what’s 20 percent of XX?” gets an answer right away.


Can you use it as a tip calculator?


Apparently, you can also use it as a time-travel machine.


European here, not so young (50).

I have yet to come across somebody using an amazon echo, amazon button or even routinely talking to the voice assistant on their phone (I have seen people try the function and then abandon it). So anecdotical evidence would imply that these devices are a lot less popular in Europe or in my age class than in the USA.

I don’t know whether it is true or, if true, what the reason would be. Language barrier may be part of the reason. These devices work well in French or German or Spanish, etc… but the people I know tend to need French, German, Spanish, etc… AND English and that confuses these assistants.
Another reason could be that people do not order online as much as in the USA (is that true?).
Another reason could be that the services that these assistants offer are pretty much US-centric and not at all adapted to the local habits. They suppose that you will move by car, that all restaurants serve standard foods and belong to a chain, that customers are loyal to a single brand, etc… All these is a little strange to me.

Talking about me: I have a smartphone with an assistant, as they all have now. I tried to use it, found out that typing text or simply taping an app to open it was easier. I deactivated it at some point. I had to reactivate it to connect the phone to my car so that I can use it as a GPS, but I don’t think I have ever used it once since.

So I am really puzzled. I look at these devices and they appear to me like a subscription service that will lock you to a single vendor, for example Amazon for Alexa. I don’t see the point of paying a subscription (Amazon prime, for example) and then further subscriptions for music, videos, books, whatever and on top of that pay for a device that will only allow me to spend more money at Amazon. I have an Amazon account, no subscription service at amazon and when I need a book, I simply fire the old browser and order it. When I need groceries, I walk or drive to the growcer. The evolution of retail in the USA completely baffles me.


Do you think only guilty people are convicted?

Scenario: an acquaintance is killed in your vicinity. As there are no other obvious suspects, the police investigate you. A few days earlier, the device heard you complain for a minute about how much you disliked this acquaintance.

Welcome to the carceral state.


My rule of thumb is to treat these devices as aides you have hired who keep notes. Be aware that this butler or concierge person can be a horrible gossip, though he or she is supposedly discreet. We already have coping mechanisms for these situations.

Despite everything, there still is a person behind these devices. The programmer who decides what the device should send, the database admin who decides which samples are to be stored, which dropped to keep data storage costs down. Or what should be logged to analyse usage. And like the concierge in our scenario, security is as difficult as trusting that the concierge properly disposes of his notes, and doesn’t just leave them where anyone can find them.


If I could just build my own smart speaker and use one of those neural network chips that’s being sold that would be fine. But the fact that many of these IoT devices are basically Mainframe 2.0 services in the guise of independent devices is what keeps me away from them. I want to own my data whether it’s convenient or not.


You don’t say?


And they should tear up their floorboards to search for listening devices – haven’t they seen Gene Hackman in the somewhat forgotten 1970s movie The Conversation?


First they came…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I think this relevant, because your point seems to be that you say nothing that you think The Man (or whomever) would find valuable or useful as leverage against you. But what about those who do? It’s a slow process of erosion, if people with your mindset allow it to happen. It’s okay, I’m not blaming or judging you. You do you. Everyone is responsible for themselves. As such, we are all divided, against those who would prefer we remain so and use that division to their advantage.


About 200-250$ per year (figure taken from targeted advertising revenue).


I think this is not correct, at least in the case of Apple’s Siri, but probably all of them – I think they recognize the trigger phrase (e.g. “hey, Siri!”) locally but after that, ship everything. This does imply they’re buffering everything so that in case they do recognize the trigger phrase, they have the next few hundred milliseconds available to transmit before switching to live capture, but probably that buffer is usually being thrown away unused.

Caveat, I’m not expert in this area and am happy to be corrected by someone who is. However, this is my understanding of how the tech works, both from recollection of previous reading and from common sense (as applied by someone who works in the broader field).

Whether this makes you feel any better about it is entirely up to you, of course.


Well, we had the little puck Echo in the bathroom so my wife could listen to music while getting ready in the morning as we used to have a little bluetooth speaker in there, but that required synching her phone to it, etc…
But I have to admit, we unplugged it some time ago - it kinda freaked me out.

Just bought a FireStick for the bedroom TV and it turns out that it has a voice feature with the remote, but it does not respond to voice (as far as I can gather) unless you turn it on.
Believe me, I am NOT one of those paranoid types who doesn’t participate in tech or refuses to own a smartphone - my job basically requires that I have one anyhow - or won’t shop online. I know people who won’t buy anything over the internet, but Christ, you’re way more likely to have your CC compromised at a POS at Target. Ask me how I know that…


I could be wrong, but I don’t think the author needs to convince anybody here