The House that Spied on me

One of my most recent posts included some commentary that the Amazon Echo doesn’t actually eavesdrop on you. This post is a response to that.

No, I haven’t changed my mind; the Amazon Echo still doesn’t spy on you when you haven’t woken it up. If you’re worried about that but have a phone, and/or haven’t disabled the microphone on your computer (and perhaps covered the camera), then you’re worrying about the wrong thing.

This is what you should be worrying about (and for those of you worried about your privacy, this is worth reading in its entirety):

[Kashmir] installed internet-connected devices to serve her, but by making the otherwise inanimate objects of her home “smart” and giving them internet-connected “brains,” she was also giving them the ability to gather information about her home and the people in it. The company that sold her the internet-connected vacuum, for example, recently said that it collects a “rich map of the home” and plans to one day share it with Apple, Amazon, or Alphabet, the three companies that hope to dominate the smart home market.
[…] I had the same view of Kashmir’s house that her Internet Service Provider (ISP) has. After Congress voted last year to allow ISPs to spy on and sell their customers’ internet usage data, we were all warned that the ISPs could now sell our browsing activity, or records of what we do on our computers and smartphones. But in fact, they have access to more than that. If you have any smart devices in your home—a TV that connects to the internet, an Echo, a Withings scale—your ISP can see and sell information about that activity too.
[…] So I know, for example, when the family wakes up, because the Amazon Echo usually starts playing songs from Spotify between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., even if I don’t know which songs. I also know that Kashmir likes to use the Alexa Sounds app—which loops ambient sounds such as rain, oceans, and fireplaces—between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., which is when she puts her 1-year-old daughter to sleep.

Getting a smart home means that everyone who lives or comes inside it is part of your personal panopticon. It turns out that how we interact with our computers and smartphones is very valuable information, both to intelligence agencies and the advertising industry. What websites do I visit? How long do I actually spend reading an article? How long do I spend on Instagram? What do I use maps for? The data packets that help answer these questions are the basic unit of the data economy, and many more of them will be sent by people living in a smart home.

Yes, Amazon knows the commands you’ve sent.

Your ISP knows… everything.

So all you people who are worried about Amazon — what have you been doing about preserving Net Neutrality? Because if the former worries you, the latter should fucking panic you.

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