Especially in recent years, technology has seemingly become more omnipresent in our lives. New products like the Amazon Alexa and Google Home have been designed to aid us in aspects of our lives that we would have never thought of before. Not only can these products turn on your lights, but they can also listen to your conversations. It expected for these products to listen in once you say its “wake word”, but they may be listening and processing all of your conversations, even when you don’t ask the device for anything. In addition to this, other apps listen to your conversations to determine the advertisements they show you and new technology is in the process of being developed to increase surveillance at doorsteps. Although some say it is a convenience for consumers, this is a serious problem because people often aren’t aware of how much we are being listened to. In addition, it is also an invasion of our privacy.
Author Sam Nichols has concluded that technology is listening to us and that certain apps and companies may be specifically behind it. In his article, he interviews experts who work in the cybersecurity field who admit that snippets of audio are used to determine your advertisements, despite companies denying it. While Siri has a clear trigger and is almost expected to listen in, triggers for other apps like Facebook are unclear and could be endless. Nichols noted that as he paid more attention to his ads, he noticed that things he had talked about were starting to appear. He experimented by talking about needing a new pair of jeans and wanting to return to college in front of his phone and claimed the advertisements relating to these topics appeared overnight. If our conversations about things as simple as jeans are being listened to and processed, what else might be?
While Amazon Alexa’s are expected to listen in to pick up on its wake word, there have been incidents where the device has picked up, stored, and even shared private conversations of others. In one instance, an Alexa captured a private conversation after the device thought it picked up on its wake word and then sent the conversation to someone in the owner’s contact list. The Alexa picked up on the conversation and confused words from the conversation as confirmations to send a text, who to send it to, and then two more confirmations to send it. Although this is said to be a rare occurrence, it has been admitted from sources in the article that Amazon Alexa’s and other similar devices randomly start recording at least once a week. Whatever conversation was recorded is then sent into the cloud and stored and if the device was not asked to turn on, it is likely that the device could capture something that was not meant to be recorded.
Alexa is not Amazon’s only form of arguably intrusive technology. Amazon is currently planning to add a face scanning surveillance camera to doorbells. These cameras will run a facial recognition of anyone who uses these doorbells, even without their permission. While this device is intended to keep the public safe and alert authorities of any suspicious activity, it is still highly intrusive. It has also been pointed out that these devices could aid the government in targeting immigrants, the formerly incarcerated, and people of color even further. Studies show that these devices are less accurate for women and those with darker skin. Not only would these devices invade the privacy of the general public, but it could also be used for hate crimes.
There are potential solutions for these invasions of privacy. Most effectively, we can abstain from purchasing devices like Amazon Alexa and Google Home so they cannot listen to us in the first place. While some people see these devices as helpful tools for keeping a household organized, they are quite invasive and are known to be faulty. We cannot entirely stop apps from listening to us, especially when we don’t know when they are, but we can take simple precautions of taping over our laptop cameras and microphones at the very least. Some people believe that having apps listen to your conversations to pick up on what advertisements you would like to see is a good thing. They claim that unless you are working with sensitive information, the apps are simply just listening in to know what to show you. Despite this, it is still unknown what else these apps are listening to and what they do with the audio clips they collect. Finally there is hope to protest and even work towards a bill to stop devices like the doorbell cameras from going public. Facial recognition and instant contact with the authorities could be seen as a safety precaution for cities, but they could easily add to the preexisting targeting of marginalized groups and even make a mistake of who the person is.Tags: Judge Memorial Catholic High School