The "Alexa" Blog - 5

In this fifth installment of The “Alexa” blog, we will take a look into concerns that your Amazon Echo may be spying on you, and introduce you to “Alexa’s” skills.

Is “Alexa” spying on you? Since the Amazon Echo is designed to be constantly plugged in and on, and “Alexa” is listening to hear her “wake word” ("Alexa," "Echo," "Computer," or "Amazon"), some fear that there is a distinct possibility that the device has the capability to record everything heard in your home, and therefore is, spying on you! I have to admit, I have wondered about this myself, especially when it seems for no apparent reason “Alexa” starts talking, especially when I  have not, knowingly, awakened her.

Amazon Echo type devices were developed to make our lives easier by responding to our voice commands rather than by touch. However, the introduction of this technology has caused concerns that “Alexa” may be used by government intelligence agencies (or other information collection platforms) to record our conversations and extract usable data about us. These concerned skeptics point out that their fear is not only with the Amazon "Echo" and Google Home style devices, but include other appliances on the market like: smartphones, watches, Fitbits, smart TVs, and even our kitchen appliances. Concerns grew louder after it became public knowledge that Arkansas law-enforcement authorities, while investigating a murder, attempted to obtain voice recordings collected by an Amazon "Echo" device to help solve the crime. These skeptics claim that everyone should definitely now be concerned that government agencies and companies like Amazon, Apple, GE, and other big tech companies want to put internet-connected listening devices in our homes in order to violate our privacy.

Even though I sometimes believe that everything is possible, I am comforted by the following facts concerning voice-activated devices:

  • Yes, the Amazon Echo is always on and always listening, but it is listening to hear its “wake word.” It does not record or capture anything, and share it with Amazon's cloud-based Alexa Voice System, until it hears its “wake word,” and you give “Alexa” a command or ask her a question. NOTE: When you do awaken “Alexa” and ask her a question (or give her a command) the Alexa Voice System does record your question or command and it remains in the cloud – forever or until you delete it. You can view your interactions with “Alexa” in the Alexa App on your smart device or PC.
  • In the United States, at least, there are laws prohibiting listening in on and recording private conversations, and then using this information for one’s nefarious purposes. Doing so is illegal and would subject companies and government agencies found to be doing this to costly lawsuits.
  • Finally, and not to be glib, “If I am not doing anything wrong why should I be paranoid about my privacy?”

“Alexa” Skills.  Amazon has made it easier to create skills for “Alexa.”  Currently “Alexa’s” skills stand at approximately 15,000 and are increasing by the day. These skills are created by developers and businesses, just like apps, to interact with “Alexa” in order to carry out a wide range of functions. With so many skills, finding the best ones for you can be challenging, especially if you are a non-tech oriented person who owns an “Echo” device. Going to the internet and searching for skills for “Alexa” may be too much of a “techno challenge” for some people. So, what would be a better way to discover the skills your Amazon “Echo” possesses? I suggest the easiest way is to simply ask "Alexa."

“Alexa, do you have any math skills?” “Alexa, what geography sills do you have?” 

I think you get the idea! We will be talking more about specific “Alexa” skills in the future. Until next time.