I’m still having computer issues, so this will be another short entry. Hopefully things will be back to normal next week.
I’m not sure what happened, but one of my older stories, Alexa is a Fed, really picked up steam over the past week and is being shared a lot. I went back and looked over the comments. Some readers share my concerns, others think I’m fear-mongering. The impression (and it’s just an impression) I get from the people who are claiming scare-mongering is that their life experiences have taught them that they have nothing to fear from authority. They’re not the ones people are calling the police on for having barbecues or using coupons or being at the pool. And if the police were to turn up unannounced because a voice assistant mistakenly called for them, the situation probably wouldn’t escalate into violence. Even setting that aside, I suppose I don’t understand how anyone who has one of these devices in their home wouldn’t be alarmed after hearing that the private conversation of fellow users’ was recorded and sent to someone else. I don’t understand how the questions: “What else is being recorded without our knowledge, and who is it being shared with?” wouldn’t come up, or how you could shrug off those concerns as scare-mongering. I suppose they trust Jeff Bezos and his peers way more than I do.
One reader, Shane R. Monroe, shared a story about Google Home that was pretty unsettling:
I assure you this is 100% real.
About once a year, we go to Ikea. It is a long drive, we spend too much money, etc.
After getting a Google Home, my wife and I were in our living room discussing whether or not we want to go to Ikea the next day.
Neither of us had used Google Maps to look up Ikea. We hadn’t used the web to search for or visited their website.
No. There was nothing to even remotely let know Google know Ikea MAY be in our future.
Later on in bed we decided not to go. No Google Home in the bedroom.
The next morning, without any prompting… my phone had directions and a map pulled up to Ikea.
Oh yes, my friends. It is listening. It is doing. This is what we CAUGHT … imagine what is going on we have not caught.
This story doesn’t surprise me. I suppose there are people who are willing to take the risk for the convenience, but pretending there is no risk — that all this information and data is just disappearing into the ether and not being stored, mined, and exploited — doesn’t make any sense to me. I suppose the lesson of so much of what is happening socially and politically is that there are way more people than I realized who need to experience something personally before being able to identify a potentially systemic problem. I’ve long accepted people’s blind spots about race and class, and while they inform things here, this is a new wrinkle.
There’s also a really, really weird almost childlike trust people are placing in these megacorporations. One commenter asked if it would change my mind if I found out employees of Amazon, Apple, and Google used the devices. I don’t understand how examining user profiles is probative of the risk of the data being abused. Half the world and all the company’s employees being on Facebook doesn’t tell me a single thing about how all the data they collect is managed. And given how heavy-handed the higher-ups at some of these companies are (particularly at Amazon), I wouldn’t be surprised if employees feel pressure to use the devices or have their status in the company be eroded. Assuming benevolence on the part of these giant corporations seems ahistorical and not very smart to me…
Not sure what will be up with my computer over the next few days, but hopefully, I’ll be back in the groove next week!