Into the Stasi era with Alexa
When Amazon introduced the voice-operated assistant, the world was thrilled. After all, it's also a good idea, because with Alexa you can play music, set an alarm or manage calendars, and all that is voice-controlled. If you then buy so-called "skills" in the Amazon Store, the virtual assistant can even control smart home devices, games and messages, or even communicate with a bank. So at first glance a pretty useful product. But why is it not as flawless as it appears?
It became known a few days ago that Amazon records and analyzes the conversations. You could have thought that, but the device also records some conversations that were not commands to Alexa without the users knowing anything about it.
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The people who bought it and are now outraged are actually to blame for their own stupidity. Ultimately, this was to be expected from Amazon. Although Amazon says it's an "extremely small sample", it is nevertheless an impudence. Imagine talking about private things. You talk to your best friend about things that you would not entrust to anyone else or about confidential information regarding your business, and now the random sample chooses you and someone is listening.
It's as if we've come back to Stasi surveillance time, only now with a business model, because you're paying to be wiretapped. There is no more profitable and at the same time more voluntary monitoring!
Now, the Federal Intelligence Service and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution want direct access to the conversations. They want to force Amazon to give the security services access to devices like Alexa. At the moment, the German authorities still have to ask the American security services for access to the data, because in America corporations have to work with security services and give them access to the files.
Some speculative questions come to my mind, because if Amazon tells me it's an "extremely small sample", who says that they are telling the truth? Lately, we have often had the experience, that one should rather not trust large American corporations like Facebook.
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Does that mean that theoretically I could be monitored by Alexa all the time?
Another question: Amazon says they record and analyze the conversations to achieve a speech enhancement. That may be true, but who can assure me that these conversations and the information they contain will not be sold to others? Amazon? We know that in the example of Facebook, the information was resold to e.g. Cambridge Analytica, even as Facebook said they would not do that.
In addition, the data is stored in the Amazon Cloud. And the data stored in Amazon are fully evaluated. Heise.de writes about data protection at cloud providers:
In addition, according to American law, Amazon has to pass on all data to the NSA, and they certainly do not just want to improve voice control.
If you are about to purchase such a device, or have already bought it, you should weigh the pros and cons. In the end, it's just about our convenience, because I can also set an alarm clock without a voice-controlled assistant. Do you really want to take the risk of being monitored and tapped, just so you need to move your fingers less?