When I first learned about the Amazon Echo I admit I immediately secretly wanted one. I mean, who wouldn’t, right? A 9-inch tubular robot sitting on the counter or shelf in any room of your home, just waiting for you to ask it a question or command it to order something online from Amazon for you. It even comes with a name, Alexa, which you can change to any name you want to. Like getting a puppy from the pound named Rufus, and deciding later you like the name ‘Wilson’ better.
“Hey Wilson, what’s the best time of year to visit Iceland?”
“Wilson, how many presidents of the United States have been impeached?”
“Uh, Wilson, remind me I have a dentist appointment on Friday, May 12th, and I need to pick up some eggs.”
Alexa (or Wilson, or whatever else you choose to name it) will not only will answer all of your questions, she can also create and maintain a grocery list, give you a weather and traffic report, and give you reminders about your upcoming appointments.
Oh, and Alexa will also gently chide you if she suspects you’re using profanity, by saying, “That’s not very nice.” Which means if you mutter nasty stuff under your breath after she misunderstands your directions a couple of times, she will not only hear you, she’ll react.
One of the selling features of the Amazon Echo includes that the more you talk to it, the more it’ll learn about you and can, as Amazon claims, better serve you as it “learns” from your previous questions and commands. It also uses your location to give detailed mapping services and weather and traffic conditions updates.
But in order for it to know exactly where you are, what you’re wondering about, and what you order online on a regular basis, so it can serve you better, it needs to store all of this personal information somewhere, right?
And it does.
Thanks to its sensitive microphones and cloud storage (running on Amazon Web Services of course) every single question, request, command, or utterance ever made after getting the Echo’s attention, is stored online. It’s how it learns to serve you better, right?
But some have raised concerns about security breaches. Despite how much Amazon insists this is an unlikely event, this device in your home is, after all, recording. Do you care if someone else, or a government agency, were to somehow manage to go through your commands and questions and shopping lists? Would you consider this a serious breach of your privacy?
Do you care?