Amazon’s Alexa is passing back gigabytes of users’ data to big businesses and, for the first time in a long time, users are more aware of it.
The rise of privacy invasion
Privacy invasions have made very popular news stories as of late, with huge companies such as Amazon, Google and Facebook harvesting profits with their users’ data.
Whether it’s hidden microphones in devices (Google’s Nest Guard), unauthorised access to private messages (Facebook Messenger) or security apps that are siphoning off data (Onavo), news of these intrusions quickly make headlines and infuriate users.
Big data is big business and that means big money for these companies. When Facebook floated its shares, each user was valued at about $100 because of their data. And that means these intrusions are likely to get worse.
The worry with Alexa
Amazon’s Alexa has raised a number of concerns that are particularly troubling. Not only does Alexa listen constantly to all conversations but there has been evidence of mass recordings being taken from devices too. By putting in a subject access request (SAR), you will soon discover the amount of recordings your device has taken without direct permission.
The device has also been known to dial individual’s homes accidentally, if you ask for the current news it will choose what news it wants to give you (not a neutral opinion) and, on some older devices, an unknown voice on an answerphone message has activated Alexa.
Hacking is a serious problem both into your internal network and your computer, as is spying into our everyday activities. As many as three quarters of people now worry about the impact of privacy invasions, nine of out of ten want to control what personal data is collected, and nine out of ten also want tougher punishments for companies that violate their privacy.
What can be done?
Many of these smart hubs and voice recognition units were designed to gather data and feed it back to a central hub, helping to improve the product and understand the user better. Now that the products work from tiny processors within the home, there is no need for this central help. The next generation of devices should have enough understanding to give users more privacy.
Governments could also control product privacy by ensuring they meet a certain standard. For example, Apple locked all the data on their phones in an encrypted format, so there is no reason why personal domestic data should not be held behind a firewall in users’ homes and released only with informed consent.
With users being more worried about devices and more protective over their privacy, isn’t it time for Amazon to update Alexa accordingly?
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