Global online and American physical retailer Amazon recently introduced a seemingly simple looking device that is always-on to offer information and assist you. However, industry experts and privacy advocates are already concerned about the growing presence of smart devices in our homes that are ‘always listening’
Amazon Echo is a prime example of devices that remain completely unobtrusive and need no physical interaction by the user. One simply needs to call out its ‘wake-word’ (which is unchangeable); Alexa and the 20cm-tall black cylinder, that sits in your home and listens to everything you do, will offer answers to your questions and help you make your shopping list. Though essentially Amazon’s Echo is a simplified, but equally potent competitor to Apple’s Siri or Google’s Google Now, what’s concerning is the core functioning of the device.
Amazon Echo though responds only after you use the wake-word, it essentially has to continuously listen for the special word and that means is always ON, reported Consumer Reports. Moreover, though Amazon stressed in the promotional video that Echo isn’t always listening, it hasn’t addressed the critical query – How long does it take for Echo to turn off once you’re done talking to it?
If Amazon’s Echo is concerning, privacy advocates are already cautioning about other smart devices in our home that are always listening reported The Guardian. Our smart TVs for example, are now built with active microphones so that a user can control it with vocal commands, but just like Amazon Echo, manufacturers of these devices do not reveal what exactly, besides the specific commands, do the TVs store and process. If that’s not all, like Amazon Echo, these smart devices are also connected to the internet as well as the respective company’s ‘cloud’ network.
Essentially, all what is being said in their hearing range, is being logged somewhere; all in the name of offering you ‘advanced services’ that the device promises to deliver, only if it is connected and active. They even caution that manually switch-off or yanking the electrical plug off the wall-socket, will hinder the functionality of the device.
Surprisingly, the same always-listening technology is already in a number of high-end mobile phones, from Apple’s iPhones to the latest Android phones from Google and Motorola. Fortunately, these devices aren’t listening till you ask them to. But for other devices, it could be a different story all-together.
The list of devices that are essentially ‘dumb,’ operate on instructions relayed to them by punching buttons and won’t track you or your voice, is shrinking rapidly. Looking at how many of these devices are constantly listening, Amazon’s Echo might not look so bad after all, relent a few privacy advocates.
Maybe in the near future, spy agencies won’t need to implant listening devices, because you would have done it yourself.
As a bonus, watch this parody of the advertisement that Amazon made for Echo:
[Image Credit | Ericsson, Amazon]