ooh why do you think people shouldn’t get an alexa etc


Okay, uh. So you understand where I’m coming from: I majored in software and I dabbled in some AI and technology ethics & philosophy courses in uni, and I love tech! I think AI is wildly fascinating, I think it has a ton of potential for supporting remote communities, I do not think that connected homes or AI assistants are inherently evil. But they are… vulnerable. There’s a ton of potential for good in this industry, but tech is, unfortunately, filled with people who either don’t think about the consequences of their actions, or don’t care.

Smart home devices trigger with a wake phrase, the whole “ok google/echo/whatever” thing you say to get their attention. This means that in some capacity, their microphones must always be active and ready to pick up on this wake phrase. Unfortunately, a lot of smart home manufacturers are not particularly cooperative when asked what they’re recording, how it’s attached to your identity, how they deal with potential privacy violations, etc. They might make a show of letting you log in and delete recordings your device has taken when triggered by the wake phrase, but they don’t give a flying fuck about letting you keep your secrets.

My parents grew up under a tyrannical regime and didn’t know which of their friends and classmates and family were part of the secret police and would turn them in for saying the wrong thing about the government. My mother also got one of these devices last year. I asked how she could stand it, given our people’s fairly justified paranoia, and she just smiled and joked that she isn’t overthrowing a government these days. And there’s a lot of people who agree with her, and won’t particularly care if a company is storing massive amounts of voice clips and mining them for data, because hey, they got nothing to hide, right? But these days, data mining can draw conclusions that a human mind would never dream of making, with absolutely none of the compassion. There are algorithms out there that can calculate when you are pregnant before you know it yourself, and trigger a helpful wave of baby-related advertisements, which you might find handy! until it accidentally emails it to your family members before you’re ready for that conversation (yes, an amazon echo thingy did this) or doesn’t adjust its behavior when you have a miscarriage and really do not want cheerful congratulatory ads at the 9 month mark. (This particular example was, iirc, given at a tech ethics talk about facebook, but still applicable.)

Read up on Internet of Things and other smart home products – this corner of the industry absolutely plans to make everything in your house smart one day and they have no intention of making any of their shit compatible with each other so they’re going HAM trying to sell and give away as many smart devices as they can right now in the hopes that it’ll build brand loyalty.

TL:DR this tech is not designed for you. It is not your friend. It’s a tool for whatever manufacturer made it to profit off of you, and, eventually, lock you into their company. I will never allow one of these things in my house and I strongly recommend you avoid them and yes, I’m absolutely aware that I sound paranoid right now! I’m even cringing real hard about it bc I don’t wanna be all hurr durr technology is evil and Thomas Edison was a witch, but like, if you do decide to get or keep one of these devices, just… be aware. 🙁