Well, mostly just listening at this point.
But don’t get cocky.
I’m no fan of the Internet of Things, or “cloud” services (as should be obvious from Escrow: Keep The “Cloud” Honest).
But voice assistant devices bring them to a new level of bad.
Think about it.
Do you really want a microphone in your house that is:
- always on
- connected to the Internet
- controlled by someone else
Because that’s what these things actually are.
Listening; always listening.
To be fair to Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant, these companies have at least made one concesion to privacy: the code that identifies their start phrase (at which they begin streaming audio to the company for processing) is run locally on the device.
Well, they say it is and so far that does seem to be true. It can be hard to tell, since they’re not very good at actually identifying the start phrase correctly.
After the device hears something it thinks is it’s start phrase, everything the microphone hears is being fed to the corporation’s datacenter where it’s completely out of your hands. They own it. They can analyze it, store it, do whatever they feel like with it.
Even the best-case scenario is bad.
If everything goes as well as it can, there’s still a collection of recordings of your voice (and those of any other people present) sitting on a bunch of servers out on the Internet. That’s not good.
But the worst-case scenarios are all terrible.
Anyone who manages to access the device from the Internet could activate the microphone streaming whenever they want. And IoT security is famously bad.
Anyone with access to the company’s servers can grab a copy of the recordings. And voice-identification biometrics make this not just a privacy violation but also a potential security threat to anything behind a voice id.
Also, all of this can be changed by the company whenever they want since they control updates to the system. As does anyone who can get access to their codebase or update servers.
Why would anyone think that this is a good idea?
Is the convenience of being able to place an order by saying “Alexa, buy more kleenex. No! Not ‘chicken necks’! Cancel! Cancel!” really worth it?
Even if they worked, the answer would still be “no”.
So stop buying these things.
And really, really don’t buy them as presents. That’s just cruel.
You can download a copy of the graphic from this post.
Since I made some higher resolution versions of the header graphic this time, including a lock screen image for my phone, I figured I’d put them up for download for anyone who’s interested. You can get them at n0ph34r.net.