Alexa, Good Job in Tech, Not Ready to Dominate


Early around March 2018, there was an interesting, perhaps also creepy news about Amazon’s Alexa: Alexa laughs at users randomly. [1] Although some people found this buggy behavior amusing, most people were freaking out hearing random laughter out of nowhere. Amazon later explained that Alex “mistakenly hear the phrase ‘Alexa, laugh,’” when other words are spoken”, and delivered the right fix. But you never know what’s the next surprise smart device is preparing for you.


With a high intention to hands-free voice assistant, Alexa has so far achieved its promise. For example no physical movement is needed to dim the light, play your favorite shows on smart TV and start popcorn machine in the kitchen. But more concrete lines need to be drawn for how should Alexa behave before severer confliction occurs. For now, there are still two major reasons preventing me from bringing Alexa home.


With the always-on device at home, home is no longer my private harbor. Everything I say could potentially be streaming up to the cloud. And the usage of such data is truly happening. On December 2017, a murder charge was dismissed based on evidence stored in Amazon Echo speaker. [2] Put aside Alexa is assisting justice or not, the fact everything I said to Alexa will be kept forever and potentially accessed by someone in the future is making me uncomfortable. There should not be any reason for you to be cautious with talking the moment when you step inside your house.


Second, is device Alexa hack-resistant? No. As any personal device has the risk of being hacked, same happens to Alexa once it connects to the Internet. Perhaps someone could unlock your door or eardrop your conversation by simply hacking your house Alexa. Take the Mirai botnet DDoS attacks happened in October 2016 for example [3], although Alexa wasn’t involved, imagining hijacked Alexa in millions of households as Malware seems powerful and destructive.


In the meantime, Alexa, or other smart home devices can be very helpful in terms of assisting daily routines. But to integrate with human lives, it’s not only the technical, but also ethical aspects to be taken into consideration. It takes million years of evolutions to build up human’s trust system. It won’t easily give in to a device rises obvious security and privacy concerns.







One comment on “Alexa, Good Job in Tech, Not Ready to Dominate”

  1. Completely agree with the concerns. I haven’t gotten an Amazon Echo yet either, even though I’m very excited about the technology. However, a lot of people don’t seem to share these concerns or don’t know enough about the risks. And I fear that with personal assistants becoming more common, the risks may get be pushed further to the background (unless a major scandal happens). On the other hand, will the challenges of privacy and security ever be solved for these devices? Nothing is ever 100% safe against security breaches. And for privacy, even if they guarantee to delete all voice data after processing, you can never be sure of it.


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