Thursday, September 06, 2018

Am I just being paranoid?

Is it just me?

Am I the only one worried that Alexa, and Echo, and all the other smart home devices have an open microphone?   Who else besides Alexa is listening?

Considering all the people trying to delete their Facebook accounts (and good luck with that, by the way), are you at all concerned that Alexa might not be the only one hearing you request your vibrator be turned on?

Who else is monitoring?  I dunno.  Hopefully nobody.  But I assume if there's an open microphone then someone can find a way to hack into it.  

I don't want to be singing "Sweet Caroline" and five nerds somewhere in cubicles are singing "So good!  So good!  So good!"

I don't want to bitch about my laundry detergent and suddenly get text messages from Tide.

Another concern:  Alexa gets a lot of directions wrong.  How good is that microphone?   Will I be getting texts from Tide when I bitch about Trump?

I may just be paranoid, but at least for now, if I want to turn off a light I'll walk over and turn it off myself.  Plus, I get credit for steps on my way to 10,000 a day. Wait a minute.  Who is my Fitbit talking to?  


Peter said...

'I don't want to be singing "Sweet Caroline" and five nerds somewhere in cubicles are singing "So good! So good! So good!"'

But I bet you do a kickass performance of Fuck Tha Police by NWA.

Jim S said...

You're not paranoid, you're just ahead of the curve.

Five years ago Charlie Rose (before he was exposed as a sexual predator) interviewed Larry Ellison, founder of the tech company Oracle and friend and colleague of Steve Jobs.

Rose asked Ellison about privacy and the government having access to everyone's Net fingerprint. Ellison, who is not known as a right-winger, said he was fine. We live in a democracy and laws can be changed. If government access to Net records could prevent another Boston Marathon bombing great. (This interview took place only a couple of months after the bombings).

Rose said what about privacy. Ellison said something interesting. He said privacy was gone and it wasn't the government who took it. He noted that if he wanted to learn everything about someone he would just bribe some VISA clerk to get credit card information. He would know everything about a person - what they read, what they wore, when they were going on vacation and what airline and hotel they were using.

Ellison said we gave away our privacy to make it a little easier to buy things online and the government had nothing to do with that.

This new tech is just the latest intrusion and, again, we're doing it to ourselves.

Matt said...

When I'm not listening to music, I deactivate the microphone. Mute it.

Janet Ybarra said...

Not just Alexa and Google. There was an episode of NCIS, I believe, where a TV mic was picking up the sound in a living room. The script was fiction, of course, but do today's TV mics really have that capability?

As was in the episode, no need for others to bug us if we've begun bugging ourselves.

I don't know if we really think about it, but then think about all the instances during a day when you are spotted on a security camera of some sort.

Lothar said...

> Will I be getting texts from Tide when I bitch about Trump?

Better this way than the other way around.

But to answer your question. I'm not buying any devices with always-on-functionality simply for the reasons you mentioned.

Lothar said...

> Will I be getting texts from Tide when I bitch about Trump?

Better this way than the other way around.

I'm not buying always-on-devices for exact these reasons. Everything you say and is considered directed to Alexa, Echo, etc. is not only sent to some remote computer but als stored there to improve the speech recognition software BTW.

Janet Ybarra said...

Oh, I forgot to mention laptop or tablet webcams and cell phone cameras and mics among other potential electronic points of entry.

E. Yarber said...

I've had the same imaginary friend since I was three years old, and am not about to change horses in mid-stream even if the new models are more popular. Mopey is currently under the bed eating acorns so I have a few moments to speak freely. If I don't manage to escape this time, tell my mother I

VincentS said...

My philosophy on such things is simple: I'll stop being paranoid when everyone stops plotting against me!

Ruth Harris said...

No, it is NOT just you! What are people thinking when they pay to put a listening device in their homes?

And, by the way, I have never signed up for FaceBook. Which doesn't stop them from sending me updates. In Spanish. Which I don't speak, read, or write. WTF?

blinky said...

You already have an open mic in your pocket. Hey Siri!

Janet Ybarra said...

The answer is that we the people have to be willing to take our power back to vote in people who will restrain corporatism and look out for the average American again.

I'll give you a hint: it's not the guy currently in the White House or his cronies in Congress.

Covarr said...

Maybe I'm naive, but I trust Google to obey their own privacy policy:

But even if I didn't trust 'em on their word, I'd trust 'em on the premise that they gather too much data from too many people to ever actually listen to all of it on an individual basis. Some people don't like being reduced to a statistic, but I consider it the ultimate form of privacy. When you have that much data, everyone becomes nothing more than a number, not someone worth snooping on.

Unknown said...

I unplugged my Alexa and put it in a closet. You missed the uproar back in May. Alexa (accidentally?) sent someones private audio recording to a random contact. All devices are hackable and an invasion of privacy. You should be paranoid.

-dsr- said...

So if you ask actual computer security experts -- and I can be mistaken for one in the dark -- you'll discover two camps.

The first group says that you aren't doing enough work to keep things private because you like how convenient it is to not do the work. You can't do much about it until you elect a government that is actually concerned about both privacy and civil rights, and isn't particularly allied with large corporations. Europe's GDPR is a good first step, but insufficient.

The second group has hidden all their traces on the Internet, so you can't talk to them.

Anonymous said...

You're not being paranoid.

Alexa and these devices can also be hacked to eavesdrop on you.

So can your phone, by the way.

Jahn Ghalt said...

(Larry Ellison said) privacy was gone and it wasn't the government who took it. He noted that if he wanted to learn everything about someone he would just bribe some VISA clerk to get credit card information. He would know everything about a person - what they read, what they wore, when they were going on vacation and what airline and hotel they were using.

Right-wing, left-wing, no-wing, classical-liberal, whatever - Ellison sounds to me like a grownup who knows to protect his own grownup prerogatives. But how far can one protect ones private travel arrangements?

Can anyone comment on cash/un-tracable airline, auto-rental, and lodging transactions? Is it feasible these days - short of getting counterfeit "papers"

("Papers!" said the checkpoint guard - pick your favorite regime)

For Alexa/Echo/etc - a voice activated power switch with a timer to go auto-off (or better - data/network switch) for those devices would seem to be in order - or do they have a battery? A battery-powered "smart-speaker" would require "surgery" to seize back privacy.

I suppose I'd pay extra to get a non-wireless smart-speaker - makes that data switch more secure.

Covarr has a point about one's data being a droplet in the oceans of data - many of us have lives much too boring to be "worth snooping on".

Finally, Ken exemplifies a sound policy with his blog - don't write (say) anything you wouldn't place into evidence in court - part of being "boring" I suppose.

Mike Bloodworth said...

Where have you been, bra? You're awfully late to the game. I wouldn't have one of those things if you paid me.
I've been worried about being spyed on for years. Weather its Russian hackers, computer geeks or "Big Brother." (The malevolent entity. Not the T.V. show.) I keep my phone covered or in it's case when not in use. Ah for the days of mechanical off switches. I seem to recall that within the last couple of years someone was on trial and the prosecutor wanted to subpoena his Siri/Alexa/Echo, whichever, because they believed that it may have inadvertently recorded some incriminating conversations. Also, I believe it was on 60 Minutes, Mark Zuckerberg was showing them around the Facebook campus. Zuck had a post-it note covering the camera on his computer. Even he is paranoid about being hacked. But, the biggest worry isn't getting caught saying something embarrassing. Its being revealed as a hypocrite. For example, let's say that publicly one is a vocal anti-Trumpist, but Alexa overhears him or her praising the President. Or you're an evangelical republican and Alexa heard you beating-off to a Stormy Daniels video. One might have a lot of explaining to do.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Part of my day job is writing about privacy. Yes, these devices are a genuine concern. There are numerous NGOs worth supporting who work in this field: EPIC (, EFF (, Privacy International (, in UK Open Rights Group (, Access Now (, ACLU ( If you are really concerned about privacy, besides protecting yourself and your friends, consider making a donation!


Andrew said...

I've never experienced this, but I have heard numerous stories about people discussing some issue in their home (not on their phone, not online, just a private conversation), and shortly thereafter getting ads on Facebook etc. for what they were talking about.

Liggie said...

You're not the only one.

Tammy said...

I've seen Facebook generate ads based on my search history, but some people say they've seen ads based on their *phone conversations*. At first I thought it was far-fetched, but I've heard it from so many people I don't know what to think anymore.

Your comment about turning the light on reminded me how much I wanted The Clapper as a kid. I loved how Samantha Stephens could make stuff happen by snapping her fingers, and this was the closest I could get.

Alexa said...

Don't be silly, Ken. I have your back.

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

Saddened by Burt Reynolds' sudden death. I know he hadn't been in great health in recent years but it's still unexpected.

I was excited when Tarantino cast him in his new film. I don't know if he filmed all his scenes already. I imagine the finished film will be dedicated to him.

In other news, the Academy have announced they're postponing the introduction of the new Achievement in Popular Film Oscar.

Peter said...

I really should have googled it first. Turns out Reynolds hadn't filmed any of his scenes yet for the Tarantino film. Such a shame. That would have been a great close to his career.

VP81955 said...

RIP Burt Reynolds. My favorite film of his is the 1989 crime caper "Breaking In," where he plays a veteran safe-cracker training a youngster in the tools of the trade. The movie has a fine pedigree, written by John Sayles and directed by Bill Forsyth. Reynolds is wonderfully understated in this semi-indie comedy.

Janet Ybarra said...

Also, the news came out today that Les Moonves will be leaving CBS after all.

MikeN said...

Yes, Echo and Alexa are sending everything to the mothership. This may be saved to be looked up at a future time.
Facebook keeps a private profile on you, filled with info you did not give to Facebook. For example, a phone number that one of your Facebook friends saved in their account.

Also, I'm not sure about IPhone, but Android keeps a record of your movements. You can look up everything Google stores on you. It is many gigabytes of info.

Roger Owen Green said...

As Paul Simon said, "paranoia strikes deep in the heartland." Still I will NEVER get one of those things. If my words are to be transmitted without my knowledge, I want the FBI wiretapping me, like in the good old days

Colin Stratton said...

I dunno. But you might want to wash the fruit before you eat it.

Kaleberg said...

The iPhone does track your movements if you turn on the Find My iPhone feature. Apple, rather obviously, could track your path using your references to Apple Maps. Apple collects all sorts of data, though it is possible to turn off a lot of it. The big difference is that Apple makes its money selling you iPhones, not selling your data to third parties. This omission is considered a selling point. You can imagine the fecal spray if Apple were caught selling even highly edited and aggregated user data.

Steve Mc said...

Personal assistants are no longer just for celebrities. As artificial intelligence keeps getting better more people will rely on Alexa et al to make choices FOR them. This will impact advertising/marketing dollars. Instead of paying for ads, those dollars will go to Amazon so when a millennial says, “Alexa, order paper towels.” the choice of brand will be made for you (like google search results).

Mark P. said...

A high school student near here got in trouble with his school principal because he ate Mike and Ikes in his bedroom at home. The school was randomly monitoring students using the webcams on their school-issued laptops and staff seemed to have been sharing information about as cavalierly as the wiretap guys on The Good Wife. Lawsuits ensued, I think the damages were $600K ($400K went to the lawyers - nice job if you can get it).

The big companies wouldn't dare do this - billions of dollars would be at stake.