Let me admit this from the start; I am a gadget freak. If it is having some cool electronic or mechanical feature(s), it draws me in immediately. Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, is a case in point. The potential for voice assistants is staggering. Even this early into their development, they are already capable of remarkable things to enrich our everyday lives. From turning on a lightto getting the latest weather, spelling a word, telling a joke or commanding more elaborate home automation sequences, voice command is here for good.
It took me a while, but I now have two Alexa Dots in my home. They are thoroughly under utilized as I only use them to turn on lights in two perpetually dim areas and to turn on the TV on and off. Yes, I ask questions now and again, but that is the extent of my experimentation to date. I have noticed one thing, and that is Alexa perks up at odd times, her circle of LEDs flashing cheerfully. It may happen when I am on a voice chat, the phone, or at random.
Early reports and critiques of Alexa-type voice assistants hypothesized that the devices could be easily hacked and switched to an always-onstate, without visual indication. The purpose was to collect surveillance data for a variety of reasons, none of which were for the benefit of the device’s owner. The manufacturers quickly moved to dispel that concept, and things settled down again.
Until recently.In an article on Geek.com, they report how Alexa accidentallysent a person 1,700 recordings to a random person. “oops!” is the proper reaction here. The man who received the recordingslivedin Germany and had requested copies of all the things that Alexa had about him on record. What he received instead, was 1,700 recordings of a stranger, also German.
The man reported the incident to C’t Magazine who was able to locate and inform the person whose data had been mistakenly provided. The recordings contained a lot of personal information such as the first and last names of both partners in the house, where they live, their taste in music, conversations in the shower, and so forth. Nothing you’d want going to a random stranger.
C’t Magazine contacted Amazon about the incident but did not tell them who the parties were as a test of how the giant online merchant would comply with the recently enacted EU GPRD laws. Within 72 hours, Amazon had contacted both parties and issued an apology, fully complying with the data privacy laws. They also explained that they were making changes to processes and procedures to prevent future incidents. Finally, they are in contact with authorities on a “precautionary basis.”
If you would like to know what Alexa has on file about you, you can go to Amazon, review the data, and delete all or part of it. As more data is collected on us every day, occasional data purges might be a good idea. I plan to see what Alexa has on record about me.
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