This man did not include a column, the special word — “Alexa” — and then could not turn it off. According to him, this was the situation in the spirit of the works of Franz Kafka.
This case is particularly interesting because Josephson was a former employee of Amazon. Three years before the incident, he volunteered to speak for the record is clearly meaningless phrase, the objectives of this assignment were not disclosed. Only when Amazon released the Echo in 2014, the man realized worked. He bought Dot, a cheaper model of the Echo introduced in 2016, and considered it quite useful until the day when she went crazy. When it happened, Josephson turned off the speaker and tucked it away.
“I felt a bit silly. After working in the Amazon and seeing how they use the data people, I realized that I can’t trust them,” says Josephson.
Voice assistants often perform actions that they didn’t have to do. Last year Amazon customer from Germany mistakenly sent nearly 1,700 audio files recorded someone’s Echo. They contained enough information to learn the name and place of residence of the owner of the column, and his girlfriend. Amazon then stated that the reason for the misunderstanding was the human factor.
A resident of San Francisco Sean Kinnear claims that his Echo column once engaged and happily said: “Every time I close my eyes, the only thing I see is dying people”. In Portland, Oregon, woman found that the column decided to send recordings of personal conversations one of the employees of her husband. In a statement, Amazon said that Echo is likely to mistakenly heard the word awakening, a request to send message, the name from the contacts list, and then confirm the sending of messages — and it all happened during a conversation about parquet floors.
Technology often formed an ambivalent attitude: we understand that Facebook and Google know too much, but continue to use them because they are very comfortable. Attitude to voice assistants, as a rule, more specifically. Their opponents call theenthusiast bespechnyiy, and they, in turn, believe opponents paranoid technophobes.
In January, senior Vice President, Amazon devices David Limp announced that the company has sold more than 100 million devices that support Alexa. Last year in the United States, where at that time every fifth adult was home voice assistant, Alexa took 70% of the market compared to 24% for Google Assistant.
However, Alexa has appeared in the age of growing skepticism concerning the moral principles of the big five technology companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. Scandals involving Edward Snowden and the Cambridge Analytica, cast a shadow over the utopian promises of Silicon valley.
2019 has been particularly difficult. For the past six months, Bloomberg, the Guardian, Vice News, and Belgian news channel VRT has shown that all companies from the big five use people-contractors for analysis of some records with smart columns. Although the audio anonymous, they often contain enough information to identify the user and put him in an awkward position — especially if they accidentally hit that confidential medical information or a sex tape.
“We live in technodisco created by our own hands. If your home still has a Alexa or any other voice assistant, you have been warned,” wrote the author of the portal Gizmodo, Matt Novak.
Voice assistants epitomize the contradiction between efficiency and privacy. This technology is still deeply flawed: at least one of the 10 records analyzed one of the Bloomberg sources, the Alexa was included by accident. Accurate interpretation of voice commands with the different languages, accents, tones, contexts, and external noise requires computational power, which many times exceed the possibilities of one device. Thus, most of the data has to be sent for processing to the cloud.
“Now the infrastructure, which may subsequently use the transnational corporations and the state and surveillance systems, which is hypothetically able to hack the hackers,” — says the specialist in digital law Michael Veal.
Not all voice assistants are the same. Apple, the bulk of the profits which is formed not due to the data collection, uses more sophisticated encryption. “Apple is best from the point of view of confidentiality. At the same time, I think, all agree that Siri works so-so,” said Gizmodo’s editor Clark Estes. Amazon Echo and Google Assistant is much easier because the business success of producers depends on how much they know about customers and how accurately can set up targeted ads.
Of course, Google and Amazon can develop this technology, hiring additional employees and not treating customers like free database. Furthermore, they could openly declare that the records will listen to the contractors-the people. “This should be reported everywhere,” — said Jeremy Gill, project Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — Association, which opposes the misuse of technology. In his view, the justification of motives of technology companies is reckless utopianism: if they really were unaware of the implications of their technology, you wouldn’t have anything to hide.
“I doubt that they assumed that everyone is going to care. I think they tried to remain silent, because if the users knew what was happening, they would cease to buy the device. It was a sound business decision,” says Gill.
In Amazon stated that he is very serious about protecting your personal information and do not use it without permission. However, again and again shows that technology companies are constantly lying about the extent and nature of the data collection.
“Google and Amazon have demonstrated their manner to take as much as you can, till someone grabs their hand. I hate to be dramatic, but I don’t think we’ll ever feel free from the data collection. Government regulation is the only thing that can reduce damage,” says Estes.
The US government is acting reluctantly. In July 2015, the Electronic information privacy center (Electronic Privacy Information Center, EPIC), a nonprofit organization that protects the “democratic values in the digital age”, called on the authorities to conduct an investigation in respect of voice assistants. While EPIC has not received a response.
“In this area of the market solutions don’t work because companies are allowed to hide the flaws of their products. If you or I were placed in the home of another device with the capability to intercept private communications, we would have violated Federal wiretap Statute,” says EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.
In July, Democrat Seth Moulton has demonstrated a law of automatic listening that proposes to punish a company whose voice assistants record the conversations without permission, but Gill thinks it is a pretty weak move. In Europe, who remember the bitter experience of mass surveillance under a totalitarian regimes stricter. Recently Google was forced to suspend the transcription of voice recordings in the European Union, while Apple and Facebook at the same time stopped doing so around the world. Amazon just allowed users to opt out of auditions, their conversations with contractors-people.
None of the experts surveyed do not use homemade voice assistants and advises not to buy them. However, they all agree that it is possible to develop a device that will provide the most popular services and not to violate privacy. If the entire industry followed Apple’s example and explicitly asked for the permission to record the conversations, in many ways it would change the situation. But, of course, at the same time, this would cause a significant loss of monetizing data.
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