If you’re lucky, you got some cool gifts this Christmas.
And if you’re really lucky, some of those gifts were wonderful electronic devices: the kind of things that were once relegated to the more-dystopian episodes of “The Jetsons.”
That’s all great. Human progress, etc.
But it’s also terrifying. Because those devices you unwrapped on Tuesday could be watching you.
So, let’s ruin Christmas. Here are a few gifts you received that may be listening to and/or tracking everything you do.
Most of us are familiar with the Amazon Echo or Google Home by now. The voice-activated assistance devices can do everything from stream music to control the lights in your house.
They also eavesdrop on you all the live-long day.
Read more commentary:
My daughter thinks 2018 was the worst year ever. I’d nominate 1968, when I was in Vietnam.
Your photoshopped, Insta-perfect life is a fake — here’s the key to make it a little more real
I was in and out of prison until, at age 41, a vocational program put my life on track
Google and Amazon like to stress that it ain’t that simple. As WIRED magazine’s Brian Barrett told NPR earlier this year, the devices listen all the time, but don’t actually collect and send out what you say until you utter a trigger word. For Amazon it’s “Alexa.” For Google it’s “Hey, Google.”
However, “We’re listening, but we promise not to tell anyone anything you say” isn’t a comforting sentiment when it comes from data-hungry corporations.
And mistakes happen. Take what happened to a woman in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year.
She told KIRO 7 that her Echo device recorded a conversation between her and her husband. Then it sent that recording to one of her husband’s co-workers.
In a statement, Amazon described the scenario as a rare miscommunication. Laid out in point-by-point detail, it plays out like the technological equivalent of Mr. Magoo ambling through a construction site.
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa,’” Amazon explained. “Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘(contact name), right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right.'”
So if you got a voice-assisted device for Christmas, play it safe. Don’t say any words that sound like “Alexa.”
Better yet, don’t say anything. Re-watch “A Quiet Place” and take studious notes.
We all have a story like this.
You’re talking to a friend and happen to mention that you need a new pair of pants or switchblade or whatever. And within days, ads for whatever you talked about start flooding your Facebook feed.
Security consultant Peter Hannay told Vice News over the summer that, yes, your phone is listening. It happens when you give apps the right to access the microphone on your device.
And you don’t need to say “Hey smartphone” for it to perk up its ears.
“From time to time, snippets of audio do go back to (other apps like Facebook’s) servers but there’s no official understanding what the triggers for that are,” he said. “Whether it’s timing or location-based or usage of certain functions, (apps) are certainly pulling those microphone permissions and using those periodically. All the internals of the applications send this data in encrypted form, so it’s very difficult to define the exact trigger.”
Are you one of those horrible people from those dumb commercials who received a car wrapped in a pretentious red bow?
Well, congratulations. Because you can read your owner’s manual cover to cover 18 times and still know less about the car than it knows about you.
Publications have been cranking out “your car is spying on you” stories for years. USA Today sounded the alarm back in 2013.
Newer cars can track where you are at all times. They can monitor your driving habits for “safety purposes.” And who knows what that sinister backup camera does when you’re not around.
Pretty much everything
Two years ago, then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before the Senate that the government could — hypothetically, I’m sure — use the ubiquity of Internet connections to spy on everyday residents. He said:
“In the future, intelligence services might use the (internet of things) for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”
Just think about the things you own that are connected to some kind of server: your smart TV; your watch; your thermostat. Pretty soon, some moron will probably concoct a couch that can monitor for signs of sleep apnea while you nap.
None of this is new. And for some reason, we’ve accepted it as a necessary evil of life.
I suppose that’s the way to go. It’s probably a bad idea to complain about any of this.
After all, something, somewhere, is listening.
Jon Webb is a columnist at the Evansville Courier & Press, where this column originally appeared.
Source: Read Full Article