You’ve already heard the recent story: Amazon’s voice-activated Echo device secretly recorded a couple’s private conversations and then sent recordings to a random person. That’s the short version, and it has several things wrong with it.

First, of course Alexa is listening to you. How would it hear the wake-up word “Alexa” if it didn’t? It also records your every request -- not to spy on you, but to get better at understanding what you want it to do. If you say, “Alexa, put Shredded Wheat on my shopping list” once a month, then even if you slur your words one day, it will ask, “Did you want to add Shredded Wheat to your shopping list?” You can just imagine what would happen if your enemies got ahold of that.

Before we get to the invasion of privacy, imagine if your health care provider or your bank had designed Alexa. You would say, “I want to speak to a representative,” and it would answer, “Yes, we will find you a cheesecake.” Compared to the average computer-voice interaction, asking Alexa to do something seems like magic. Even with my Southern accent, it only took a few days before it learned that when I say “Wendy” I don’t mean “windy.” But if you really don’t want it to listen in the background, waiting for you to ask it something, there’s a well-marked button on top of the device with a picture of a microphone with a line through it. It’s the off button for the microphone. Very handy if you have someone named Alexa living in your house.

The second thing wrong with that story: The device didn’t send the audio files to some random person, as widely reported. It sent them to someone in the family’s contact list. You can use Alexa as a phone, but only if 1. The other person you’re calling has an Echo device, and 2. They are on your contact list, and 3. They accept your invitation.

In short, you can set up Alexa so that all you have do is say, “Call Mom,” and just start talking. Most modern cars let you set up your phone the same way. It’s not rocket science; it’s wonderfully convenient.

Can unexpected things happen? Sure. Is it perfect? Well, that’s a good question. What product is perfect, exactly? Is your car perfect? Ever had a problem with your computer? Your phone? Or do they all work perfectly?

What is this fixation with being perfect? Does a month go by that some product doesn’t get recalled? This month it was romaine lettuce, 4.5 million cars and Spam. And those are just the ones we heard about. But with millions of devices out there, this is the first time Alexa seems to have made a mistake.

“That’s not a fair comparison,” you might say. “Alexa was invading their privacy.” Really? That device just walked into their home without them knowing it? Some spy planted it in the house without their knowledge?

And what is privacy in this day and age? If you have a loyalty card from a grocery store, an airline or a credit card, they already know more about you than the IRS.

When I Googled a few news sites to collect the details on this story, the first thing that popped up was “This site uses cookies, blah, blah, blah.” They are collecting information about me trying to collect news about a story about an invasion of privacy, so they can sell it to people who want to know everything they can about me. If I say “no,” I can’t read the story. How meta can you get?

Are devices like Alexa really the problem? As if Amazon doesn’t already know everything about me.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.