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When Amazon announced its new microwave on Thursday, images of Greek warriors sneaking out of the Trojan horse into the city of Troy came to mind. Only, in this version, the warriors were Amazon employees and Troy was our private home.
While this is not like the invasions we learn about in history books, it is an invasion of another kind — one that may set new precedents for the future of privacy and technology in our homes.
By its own count, Amazon announced 70 new devices last week. Nearly all have its Alexa voice-assistant technology, including new Echo speakers, a smart plug that connects Alexa to any appliance, and a security system that talks to — you guessed it — Alexa. Welcome to the new, invasive, normal.
If the average home had all of the Alexa products installed, most of its private spaces could essentially be bugged. This is not a tinfoil-hat conspiracy, but rather based on facts. Earlier this year, an Amazon Echo recorded its owner’s private conversation and sent it to a contact in their phone, as reported by CBC. Amazon officials explained that the artificial intelligence woke up as a result of misinterpreting a word that sounded like “Alexa.”
According to Strategy Analytics, intelligent home speakers, i.e. those with voice-assistance, are predicted to account for nearly 90 per cent of all Wi-Fi speakers sold in 2020. In Canada alone, Edison Research and Triton found that more than 30 per cent of smart speaker owners have an Amazon Echo device.
Amazon’s new microwave is not equipped with a speaker, but rather has the capabilities to pair with Amazon’s Echo. This is a clever ploy to showcase how Amazon’s system can turn regular appliances into smart gadgets — yet another step towards the proliferation of Alexa.
It may seem trivial to worry about something as small as a microwave. But you should. And here’s why.
Alexa has the capability to track habits, product selection, and consumer choices — not to mention the potential to accidentally listen in on sensitive content. The microwave can even track the amount of times you make popcorn and automatically reorder it through Amazon’s delivery service. It may sound ideal, but it’s yet another way for companies to spread their tentacles into the everyday lives of customers.
As consumers, we are giving away too much of our personal data at the benefit of convenience. But, it doesn’t need to be this way.
Snips, a French company, has created a private-by-design voice-recognition software. This allows voice commands to be processed on the user’s device, rather than transferring data to a central server such as the Cloud. So, why do devices like Alexa still insist on invading our privacy?
The simple answer: money and consumer data. Amazon’s new microwave is strategically priced at $60, which is a reasonable comparison to others on the market. It is not intended as a money maker, rather it was created with the intent to consume and download as much data from its users as possible, and report its findings back to the mothership.
If you think Alexa is about user convenience, think again — voice domination is just another invasion tactic of today’s tech.