If this happened today but with Verizon and someone's location via cell tower records, no one would use that as evidence that no one should own a cell phone. That probably tells you what you need to know about the trajectory of voice assistants.
Having a voice assistant means I don't have to spend a few seconds typing, at the cost of having everything I say potentially overheard by someone who I'd rather didn't hear it.
By my quality metric, the first is a big win at a small cost while the second is a tiny win at a huge cost. YMMV.
You're underplaying it in order to artificially inflate your mileage.
Having a voice assistant means not having to learn to change application contexts inside an operating system follwed by a few seconds typing. You are ignoring the hundreds/thousands of hours you've spent learning which software is appropriate for which contexts. Not to mention the latency of instantiating them, or possibly even installing them, migrating data between them, etc.
Voice assistants have contexts but they map fairly closely to natural language. And non-technical users can teach other non-technical users what those contexts are. "Here's how you set an alarm." I've never used Alexa but I'd bet it's something like, "Set an alarm for blah," or even, "Wake me up at blah." And I bet if I asked an Alexa user how to do that I'll remember because it's all natural language. That's a huge win for usability.
Now try teaching a non-technical user about cron, its flags, and its relationship to other shell commands, using natural language. In a decade that bullshit will sound more antiquated than the amplitude modulation on the voice of a Dalek.
So, it's interesting. I resisted the iphone-style smartphone for a long time (I loved my nokia communicators) - I mean, I was super into wearable computers; I owned an Xybernaut at one time; I had the palm v with the cdpd modem... but I resisted the winning form factor for so long.
And... yeah, it was a mistake. Not really a huge one, 'cause the things are designed to be easy to learn over being easy to use (there's usually an either/or there. the easiest to learn process is rarely the most efficient process) but still, a cost; to this day, I'm not all that great at typing long messages on a phone keyboard, like young people seem to be. For that matter, I didn't buy a car GPS until far after they were common, and I am unusually bad at reading maps for a man who started driving before consumer GPS was common, so I would have saved many hours and more than one job interview if I had that technology sooner.
I kind of feel the same way about voice control. I mean, essentially it's a command line interface with a wonky input method, no? and it's a command line interface designed for regular people, not people who are familiar with the command line tradition. I don't think it's super useful now, and I kinda think it will be a fad, like the '80s talking cars.
But, I could be totally wrong. What am I missing out on by resisting the voice controlled garbage?
I mean, if someone does come up with a google maps level 'killer app' that makes you way more effective if you use the voice control, I'll be behind the curve.
"I mean, essentially it's a command line interface with a wonky input method, no?"
This is precisely the feedback we got from salespeople, when we were working on a Natural Language Programming interface for Salesforce. Initially, I got angry and denied the comparison. But after several people made the same comparison, I came to appreciate how true it was. Unless NLP is perfect, it is really just a Command Line Interface with an awkward input device. I talk about this a little towards the end of this story:
The privacy issue is easily solvable IMO. Google already requires a physical mute button on their devices to disable the mics in hardware not just software. It will require either user trust (admittedly in short supply with tech companies lately) or some government regulations but there is no reason even today for devices to have to "record" your conversations in order to process. As long as you require a "wakeword" to tell the device to start listening to your next commands the device doesn't need to record all audio all the time.
Alexa could not get these, which made the skill nearly useless.
It is much easier to simply use a keyboard.
And please consider the failed promises we've heard over the last 3 years. Remember "Invoxia will enable Alexa to tell which person is talking":
One as limited options in terms of forcing Alexa to pause in certain parts of a word:
I wrote this when I was still optimistic:
Please elaborate. What do you mean by "thousands of hours of learning". Aren't you overplaying it to fit your narrative?
Have you ever done IT for your family or friends, or seen a coworker completely helpless in the face of an unrecognized file extension? Say they're, I don't know, an engineer or a call center operative or something. 6 hours of computer in a working day, 250 days of work a year, maybe they got out of college in 2005... more than fifteen thousand hours in front of a computer, and, well, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa9DLxDtPtc. Computers are mindbogglingly complicated.
And then there's us, the people that hang out on HN. I can't even think of how many times I've spent fifteen minutes digging around in config files or menus or googling for a better tool. I've probably spent over a hundred hours just on my emacs setup. Easily hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours of focused effort dedicated solely to high-end computer-use skills, and that's not even counting the things I use the computer for. And I'm still learning things every day.
> Now try teaching a non-technical user about cron, its flags, and its relationship to other shell commands, using natural language.
I'm just not sure what you mean with this statement. Are you talking about setting up cron jobs via voice? Or are you just making an analogy about the (perceived?) complexity of cron and teaching it to a non-technical user?
"Please remind me every day at 5pm to water the plants", or "Please play this song at medium volume every morning at 7am"
than to learn how to do the equivalent in whatever operating system their device uses, and I'd tend to agree. Cron is certainly a much higher bar than learning to use the alarm app in your phone, but the point remains, particularly in a home context.
I mean you can use the GUI (launching apps etc.), or literally just type "remind me every day at 5pm to water the plants" into the home screen search bar (on Android at least).
The voice recognition and the assistant parts are decoupled.
I taught one of my family members about using PC and Android, and found that almost everything needs to be explained. For example:
- What's Google/Microsoft for? (Yes, even the giants in tech may never be heard for some people and it's common)
- Browser? And there are many of them? (Not everyone has a computer and Internet access)
- URL? What is that? I cannot even spell it! (This is more complicated and requires people to remember the addresses of tens of commonly used websites, btw, what's a bookmark!?)
- register? with what? bank account or passport? (if someone doesn't have a email account, it's likely that they have no idea about the process of register, activation.)
- App market? wait a second, what's an app? (not to mention built-in ones and those from 3rd parties)
The thing is Alexa, google home and many others provide a unified, easy to use substitute(well, I have to admit these devices are pretty dumb these days. So they are not 100 percent alternatives). The only requirement is being able to speak in a clear way, which is true for almost everyone.
PS: I don't have any of these devices. As a hard-core programmer, my choice is, without any doubt, *nix, shell, etc. GUI sucks ;-)
Are you saying that voice UI is not its own "application context"?
It's an undiscoverable mess.
I can type everything I'd issue as a voice command into my home screen. I have to install and learn just as few/many things and commands as I'd have to using voice recognition. Op might have underplayed something, you just made things up.
You are not the market that these are targeted at then. The normal person cannot do those things.
Utility of VAs are going up. Comfort with them is a normative thing, and history tends to point to the norms changing.
1. having a map on your phone doesn't necessitate gps; only automatically locating yourself on that map does, which is an added convenience as opposed to the core functionality.
2. even the core functionality of a map—navigation—is a rarer one than the plethora of things one can connect voice control to
3. apart from taxi integration, probably the most common multiplier of the applicability of gps is voice: "find restaurants near me", etc.
In fairness, even with the above, your comparison is probably still correct: gps represents a bigger value add relative to the trade-off, but I just think they're much much closer than you make out.
How does that help me at home? I don't dispute the value of voice recognition on a phone. But we're talking about smart speakers here, in your home, always on.
(BTW, on a phone I can set up common queries like "find restaurants near me" as shortcuts and access them with a single touch.)
> gps represents a bigger value add relative to the trade-off
Yep. Also, I can easily turn my GPS off, restrict apps from accessing it, etc. Home smart speakers are necessarily always on.
Maps/navigation is the only reason I even have a smartphone.
Can you expand on that? In what way?
* Find phone/computer
* Locate self in interface and navigate to application selector
* Invoke note-taking or reminder app
* Type in note or reminder
* Navigate through tagging/scheduling interface
* Commit note/reminder
* Locate notebook
* Locate writing utensil
* Open notebook to current page
* Write note
* Remember to check notebook every thirty minutes for the rest of your life
* Be in shouting distance of phone or assistant base station
* "Okay Google/Alexa, note to self/set a reminder for eight pm: <blah blah blah>"
There are lives that can be changed by organizational technology. But exactly this population was the one least well-served by classical note-taking and reminder apps. That "before" workflow was the six-inch drop at the end of the wheelchair ramp . Voice assistants are a game-changer.
The voice way is like writing the simple add-mupltiply loop in C, and UI way is like writing the same in assembly (using vector extensions). Assuming you know how to do it very well, writing assembly code for that loop wouldn't be even longer to do. And you don't have a 100% chance the compiler will do the right thing with unrolling and vectorizing in this particular case, but most of the time you check the output and try another compiler options until it do the right thing, and only after a bunch of tries you finally resort to assembly. That's basic energy-conserving optimization present in people's firmware in their brain.
Your analogy touches on another important factor, which is that the human brain has a titanic amount of hardware dedicated to accelerating and reducing the overhead of voice. It's so good that it even participates in basic cognition, so most of the time the note you want to take is already right there and properly formatted for speech. There's a reason that "thinking out loud" is a thing. :P
Anyone using a voice assistant now is almost certainly at the forefront of the technology. In five years or maybe ten they'll probably be a lot more impressive.
And as the type of person who has always struggled with calendars and notes apps, it's really valuable to me.
This is just bad UI. Voice assistants and search have been used to paper over a serious decline in UX over the past decade or two. PDAs from the late 90s had much better note taking workflows.
1. Find phone (Is this really an issue? Haven't they become an extension of our body?)
2. Unlock phone with thumb (unless of course you're already using it).
3. Type "make a note to do the thing" into the big text box at the top of your screen.
4. Preview / confirm it's what you wanted.
5. Hit "Checkbox" to confirm.
1. No need to find the phone (assuming it close, which I'd say is a fair assumption).
2. Say "OK Google".
3. Say "Make a note to do the thing".
4. Depending on current coverage, wait while it goes to the cloud to figure out what you mean (annoying).
5. Listen while it tells you what it did.
6. Say "Yes" to confirm.
That being said, I do agree that it's very convenient to use voice for these sorts of tasks. Especially when driving.
wait 5-10 seconds for the assistant to chime. It might work if I don't wait, but mostly doesn't. Sometimes it doesn't wake up at all.
"take a note"
wait for the assistant to ask what the note is
"Remember to put your shoes on!"
Check whether the note was taken correctly
Also, if I was actually using the phone for something else:
switch back to the app I was using when it occurred to me I should remember to put my shoes on
If you're having trouble with getting the assistant to wake up, and you don't see an improvement after running through the wizard you get when you say "retrain voice model" or "recognize my voice", you should also be able to get the assistant up by long-pressing the middle button in the navbar at the bottom. You additionally shouldn't need to wait for a response after saying "take a note", just dump it all in a single breath.
> when it occurred to me I should remember to put my shoes on
...Are you mocking me? I thought I'd made it pretty clear that I used that tools to help compensate for a memory problem that does, in fact, qualify as a disability. Try "okay Google, remind me at eight pm to reply to $friend about $thing". Or "okay Google, remind me every day at two in the afternoon to make a dentist appointment...".
But why does that interface have to be the clumsy, always listening crap that we see today?
And why can no one except Apple give any guarantees with regards to what they use my data for?
: No, I'm not a Apple fanboy. I just can't stand their UX, seriously, which is sad since I value their current stanace on privacy.
: And for what it's worth, Apple seems happy with selling out if the alternative is leaving the Chinese market behind as documented elsewhere in this thread. Although I'll admit that from what I read they where up front with their Chinese users about the change.
I can imagine things a digital assistant could do that I'd value quite a lot, but none of them are done by what's currently on the market. (And most of them would involve heavy smart-home integration, which makes their privacy failings even worse.) Meanwhile, the offerings I've actually seen so far look like their maximum utility would be converting tablespoons to cups while my hands are messy from cooking.
When the company selling a suspiciously cheap home speaker ('stocking stuffer') is the same company that boasts of having infinitely scalable computing ability and is the only cloud vendor that meets the Pentagon's procurement requirements, people are justified in thinking that Amazon's ambitions go beyond 'making it easier to order online'.
I can't find any holes in that theory.
There should be a word for believing that someone is working for your interests even though you have no reason to, as a counterpart to "conspiracy theory" which implies that you believe that a group is working against your interests without having a good reason to. It's like people have a conspiracy theory where Amazon is conspiring in secret to help them.
Amazon of course is not exactly conspiring to try and get me to buy more stuff from them (they're very upfront about it), which makes them both more crass and also easier to trust in some ways than Google.
I might enjoy "barnummark" or "candidable."
Some might use the term "optimist" in this sense. Whether it's fair or unfair to call them cynics is left as an exercise for the reader.
If people have a conspiracy theory about secretly being helped by a large faceless power, that would probably fall under the label "pronoia".
Infosec conspiracy theories are different from normal conspiracy theories because while normal ones are pretty much always bullshit, infosec paranoia is always proven sensible on a long enough timeline. Yes, there will be an incident sometime soon where law enforcement builds a case through evidence gathered with a virtual assistant using AI or something to sift through all that audio. The constitutionality of this evidence-gathering will be superficially questioned but it'll end up getting admitted anyways, or used sneakily via parallel construction techniques. Assuming it hasn't already happened.
They've already done it with phones. Providers and manufacturers used to resist, but after lots of murky "national security" legislation they can't really refuse anymore. Ever read about how the stingray was first discovered, and that law enforcement was sneakily using it extra-legally to build cases? Now it's pretty common knowledge that your phone can be tricked by a fake cell tower and there's nothing you can really do. But does anyone give a single shit? Nah. It's normalized. Every successive technology that is developed and added to the panopticon toolkit will make us more and more accustomed to it. There's been enough overreaches and abuses of technology already that you shouldn't have this blase attitude about it. But that's not how people really work.
Not exactly as you described, but fairly close.
It's been a slow boil since then; people accept things today on a regular basis that would have caused riots just a couple decades ago. And I get it, there's lots of important and valid improvements to life thanks to smartphones and the modern internet. But I'm not talking about the way things are now. I'm talking about the way things will be soon. Very soon. Like the next 10-20 years up until we all die in the climate wars or whatever, hopefully not but that's a different story I guess.
People were worried about cell phones back when you had to pull up the antenna and checking your email was an incredibly exotic feat of mobile technology. They had no idea about the kind of big data extrapolations that would soon become possible. If they did, they would have been far, far more worried.
Digital assistants, ubiquitous computing, "smart" cities which keep tabs on your life better than you do and other advances in mobile tech are going to be the same way. Those ramifications we can think about now are only the very tip of the iceberg. Completely unexpected uses and exploitations are going to appear out of nowhere like black swans as the years unfold. We can't make informed decisions about what we're doing to our humanity because we really have no idea. This has always been the case with industrialized society, true. But it's happening faster and more dramatically each time.
I'm in my 30s too and I can remember how I tried to walk to the library in the city for the first time: a map, tricks to figure out the orientation, and asking passerby. Back then, it's not as convenient as navigation with GPS/Google Map, but people were used to it.
The point is: concerns about privacy had and has never been a issue for any technology. The fact that everyone can own a cellphone with GPS, mic, gigabytes of storage makes them forget about that their location is being tracked by both cell towers, OS itself, and possibly some apps. It's totally possible that in the near future a device in the size of earpods can: help you learn a foreign language, teach you certain professional skills such as singing, and control all appliances. Then people will say something with absolute certainty: visual assistant really helps and my life will be a totally mess without it, but technology XYZ is too much, useless for me,and it tacks my movement.
PS: I use GPS related apps a lot on a daily basis: find nearest restaurant, navigate, and many other location-based apps. But here is a interesting report about taxi drivers rely on their memory instead of GPS:
You're missing the part where said company has no motivation to not spy on you. There's absolutely nothing preventing companies from doing so today (in the US), while on the upside the opportunity and motivation for them to collect all your data for possible profit gains later is extremely high.
Nobody is 100% law-abiding or morally clean. Nobody. We're definitely all vulnerable to prosecution and blackmail. People who think they have nothing to hide aren't using their imagination properly.
anything existed before my birth is old and outdated. Ideas and inventions I grew up with really changed and is changing the world. Others are useless and invade my privacy.
I cannot remember either the exact sentences or where I get this from.
If you want true offline map, you'd need to use Bing, HERE or OSM.
Societies regularly undergo bouts of either really extreme political corruption or mass insanity (or sometimes both at once). All this mass surveillance is going to be a blast next time we have a Hitler, Pol Pot, or Stalin. We are already seeing this abroad but Americans still think it can't happen here.
I'm not sure about that. The slope is not going to change direction, so it's only going to get worse. The newer generations will look back and go "what was the problem the old timers were complaining about, besides getting off their lawn?" I have a kid that just missed out being part of the millennial group. She already thinks I'm a curmudgeon about things. By the time she has a kid, privacy will just be a word to learn the definition to understand what people were talking about as it's simply not going to be a concept they care about. Maybe one more gen later.
Don't give me some bullshit answer about, "Oh, search, oh the web..."
And don't give me that bullshit about, "Oh, but natural language processing needs computational power that won't fit in your pocket."
I only need the internet for a few specific things.
The things I could use a voice interface aren't hard, and don't always involve the internet.
At the risk of stating the obvious; Facebook has more than demonstrated the opposite.
Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon have never given me a single reason to trust that they have my privacy concerns on their mind.
The same Apple that gave the Chinese government access to all their Chinese user's iCloud data?
The Chinese government access is _not_ limited to metadata.
Literally the first paragraph of both of bduerst's links suggest otherwise.
Also, I don't know if you've used iCloud on multiple devices before, but it very much contains iMessage data contents.
The board's legal mandate is to make as much money as possible. As soon as privacy is no longer a fad that makes more money and growth than the opportunity cost to not violating it, Apple will flip a switch. That's their duty as a for profit company.
Why do people keep repeating this falsehood?
Per SCOTUS in US v. Hobby Lobby:
> While it is certainly true that a central objective of for-profit corporations is to make money, modern corporate law does not require for-profit corporations to pursue profit at the expense of everything else, and many do not do so. For-profit corporations, with ownership approval, support a wide variety of charitable causes, and it is not at all uncommon for such corporations to further humanitarian and other altruistic objectives. Many examples come readily to mind. So long as its owners agree, a for-profit corporation may take costly pollution-control and energy-conservation measures that go beyond what the law requires. A for-profit corporation that operates facilities in other countries may exceed the requirements of local law regarding working conditions and benefits. If for-profit corporations may pursue such worthy objectives, there is no apparent reason why they may not further religious objectives as well.
Can Apple opt to do bad or short-sighted things? Yes.
Are they legally required to do them to maximize profits? No.
1) The implementation of the wake word recognition is implemented in hardware that cannot be updated remotely.
2) The device is unable to transmit information without lighting up a TX light. Implemented in unmodifiable hardware.
3) Voice recordings are processed and then deleted within one month.
4) The device is run by a company that doesn't make money through marketing or data analysis.
1&2 get the company pilloried by HN the moment a vulnerability comes out.
3 is a requirement that doesn't actually solve any problems and ruins a legitimate need of ML - comparing performance against a known baseline.
4 is overbroad - most software companies make their money through data analysis of one form or another.
You're setting up an impossible set of demands that no manufacturer is going to meet and no consumer really cares about (other than perhaps yourself and a few tinfoil hat wearing crypto-anarchists).
I trust Amazon as much as I do Apple to protect customer privacy.
Pain in the ass but you could open source it for the rest of the world.
I like that term. Would really like a definition.
How does 'technology whose short term value is negated by long term negative effects' sound?
On the other hand, this is Facebook's business model.
Not according to the NY Times this week. Amazon have been reading your private messages on Facebook.
It's not as bad. It's the difference between paying somebody to tell them secrets about you and selling secrets about you. But it's definitely not a thing a person respectful of your privacy would do.
Literally every company that has access to users' data has in one way or another some kind of business model based on selling that data. Every day I come across 2 or 3 articles from big newspapers giving Facebook some shit about selling user data. But what about Experian? What about phone carriers? They all sell users' data, maybe anonymous maybe not but they are still making profit on people's privacy.
And when some shit goes down, we make a big fuss about it for a few days and then we go back to normal. Equifax anyone?
Honestly, companies in the position of making profit on users' data have been doing it for the better part of 15 years now, I don't understand why we are acting so surprised now.
Most peoples lives are as simple as going to school and work, raising a family, taking vacations, paying bills, and then passing away.
There will never be a moment where they can say “Yes! My avoidance of Facebook and Alexa for all my life has finally paid off! Hahaha!”
The only people who can say that are people who have good reasons to hide: drug dealers with multiple lines of business, professional black hat hackers, home grown terrorists, life insurance fraudsters, etc.
The average person has nothing of interest to offer except more information about them in order to better perceive trends and distribute ads to them so that maybe they buy something.
Please don't pretend that both "only criminals have something to hide" and "criminals are by definition bad people" are true statements. Neither is true.
However, I know that there are lots of people who do have those things they need to hide, and if only the people who need to keep things private work to keep things private, than the very fact that they are keeping things private becomes a risk factor.
Just like how part of the value of https everywhere is to prevent encrypted traffic from standing out, everyone maintaining privacy helps prevent people who NEED privacy from standing out.
Of course, as an individual, there is a cost for demanding that privacy - I lose out on the benefits of things like the echo and facebook. And since I am not an individual who needs privacy, there is no individual incentive to maintain it. It is a bit of a collective action problem.
"Sir, we have decided for unspecified reasons to suddenly decline your medical insurance. Have a nice day."
I think there's a lot of unexplored "how should/will society work" ground here, or at least explored only in science fiction, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the future. Maybe we will move to an "assume everyone is recorded all the time and put 0 weight on these recordings in anything that matters" world, for example... Hard to tell.
Even under the most oppressive governments though, there will still be a sizable majority that doesn’t have anything to hide and can feel secure using most technology, and they’ll be fine.
Second, just because it doesn't describe your government now doesn't mean it won't in the future, unfortunately. Consider examples of a 1920s German, or a 1960s Iranian (the old regime was oppressive too, but in different ways), or a 2000s citizen of Poland.
Third, there are certainly places where the danger is not from the government but from your neighbors, including to some of the groups I listed. So thinking about this only from the perspective of governments and criminality is off. Hence my claim that "only criminals have something to hide" is a false statement.
Fourth, I suspect that perception of how much one has to hide is highly age-dependent. As people get older they discover more and more things that they either want to hide or wish they could have hidden. Maybe I'm wrong in my guess as to your age, of course, but if I am not, I strongly urge talking about this sort of thing with people a few decades older. It can be _very_ eye-opening. Certainly was for me.
This is the risk averse argument against certain technologies. If you believe your government won’t change and are willing to take that bet, you can lean into technologies very hard and reap the benefits.
Of course, if you think there may be a day where your government will change and use technologies against you, you could live out in the boonies and never even touch a computer, and thus get no benefits from emerging tech.
It’s a trade off between being at the bleeding edge and being as secure and private as possible. Personally, I have made my decision. Could it be my undoing one day if government decides I’m guilty of everything? Sure, but I doubt it will happen. I’ll take the bet.
That said, I also think we should work toward changing the nature of the tradeoff, e.g. by changing how voice assistants work to minimize the privacy issues. I suspect there's a lot of work we could do on that front while not compromising the functionality of the voice assistants.
... yet? :)
This mindset seems to be why the US political parties keep handing each other more and more federal power. Nobody can imagine their nation would be so stupid as to ever put the Other Guys back in power again.
> The average person has nothing of interest to offer except more information about them in order to better perceive trends and distribute ads to them so that maybe they buy something.
This is a remarkably dehumanizing way of looking at people. You’re basically saying that people have nothing useful to offer except things we can use to sell them more stuff.
I'm not actually suggesting that Amazon does this right now, but it would be pretty easy for them to do so. People should be very worried about this technology and if they choose to use it, they should be absolutely sure the data is being used in a way that doesn't screw them over. Your boring data is absolutely interesting to people who want to abuse you. That's why there's such a big price on it!
That this flawed and toxic thinking is so often repeated, especially in tech circles, truly horrifies me.
This approaches one thing I always wonder when this comes up: Are people with that argument really okay with their co-workers finding out what porn they watch and when they watch it?
It's perhaps a little extreme, but I can totally see it becoming a possibility due to large leaks like this.
Regardless, I disagree with the argument, as things you don't need to hide now can become things you wish you had hidden later (think of Jewish people in Germany in the 1920s whose religion and ethnicity were obvious).
A) It depends on if you enable it.
B) Just because you're willing to accept something in one domain doesn't mean you are universally OK with it being applied everywhere.
C) I trust Apple much more than I trust Amazon.
"Our technology runs on-device, works offline and guarantees Privacy by Design"
Too bad local control seems to be a luxury these days, rather than the standard.
You're also missing the point. I don't think anyone has ever claimed that speech recognition can only be done on supercomputers. Your laptop can surely run one of these models (though it would take a long time to train one). But there's a reason why an Echo Dot cost $20 and not $1000.
I’m excited for the day when it is!
Some are considered tech people who should know stuff like this could happen, but they just don't care or don't think it will happen to them.
Somewhere there is an ex-Stasi officer who is thinking "I wish we were that good and had people fooled to voluntarily install listening devices and didn't have to tap phone lines and crawl around basements and rooftops".
2) Your phone is doing the same thing except for it follows you around everywhere you go and records your map location, what apps you use, who you are talking to and what your web searches are. Your phone isn't recording just what you say...its recording what you do and where you do it and when you do it. It's overwhelmingly more pervasive and invasive if you value privacy.
3) The utility of being able to interact with a computer via my voice wildly surpasses the risk. Even if it had been my voice sent to this random other person all they would get is 3000 recordings of me saying "Alexa, what is the weight of an elephant?" "Alexa, play Magic Sword." "Alexa, whats the weather?" My father-in-law thought these things were the devil until he realized he could ask it to play ANY SONG HE WANTED and it would do it. Now he is always unplugging ours and plugging it back in on the porch so he can use it out there.
Literally every article about home assistants brings out a number of people who continue to say how they can't understand how people could have this in their homes. Great, you can't understand it. Meanwhile, an enormous number of people find immense utility in home assistants otherwise they wouldn't be proliferating so wildly for this long.
Point 2: My phone, an iPhone, offers a way to turn off the keyword-listening functionality - and presents this switch during initial setup. It also offers a way to turn off all tracking functionality. Apple has no financial gain from lying about this.
Point 3: This comes back to point 1. If you don't know what and when the assistant is listening to, you have no idea what phrases are being collected and shipped off. Also, there are plenty of studies floating about the internet about how "anonymized" search engine queries have been collected, studied, and in many cases paint very personal portraits of the people doing searches.
I know this isn't the kind of certainty you're looking for, but Google Home and Alexa both allow you to enable audio cues for when they start and stop recording. I find this helpful from an accessibility perspective, but the privacy-conscious may also appreciate the indicator.
The iPhone has a lot less tracking built in and has much better privacy controls than Android with Google Play Services, but there are still some avenues for different companies to track you and to have a lot of control over your device.
This is incorrect. If you want to know what your device has heard and processed (or failed to understand), you can look at the Alexa app on your phone. It will tell you what it thought you asked for and what it told you or played for you, and you can replay the recording of your voice request.
What I don't understand is why they have to store voice recordings instead of deleting them once they understand the vocal command. There could be a number of reasons and I don't like any of them.
They don't have to. You can disable it at https://myactivity.google.com
Google's always mining data behind the scenes and gapps are constantly phoning home, your "opt-out" preferences are meaningless.
That excuse made sense in a time where public trust in these companies was justifiably high but it's turned into a situation where the major tech giants have the power to become a modern day Stasi on steroids (and increasingly show their willingness to play that role). We had to place enormous trust in these company's ethics (mostly on a subconscious level as they all used to go to great lengths to afford us the ability to implicitly trust them) in order for the smartphone/mobile revolution to occur. Now that these devices are a necessity in modern society, they've all dropped the pretenses that allowed us to trust anything to do with the information they're collecting.
We're living in a cyberpunk dystopia and I don't see an easy way out.
1)Install F-Droid (f-droid.org)
2) Install Yalp Store from F-Droid
Not that I have any insider information but a while back someone made a post on reddit about what baffles them about their work and they had a job where they basically listened to very short voice clips and saw something on the screen and they had to decide whether it was the right word on the screen or not.
In case you weren’t joking.
It feels weird to feel out of touch. I’ve been a computer/technology enthusiast my whole life, and used to proudly early-adopt all sorts of crazy gadgetry. But the older I get, the fewer things coming out of Silicon Valley appeal to me, and the less I understand the use cases. I just have to shake my head and accept that they are somehow useful to a lot of people and that the idea of a cool useful product is changing.
* You have to have Amazon Music Unlimited which costs from $4.99 to $9.99 a month.
The fact that all the current listening assistants do ship the audio stream to the cloud has nothing to do with CPU power and everything to do with a desire to collect as much personal data as possible, and as far as I'm concerned they can pound sand.
Show me the source code!
...all of it, including what's running the entire cloud behind it! Until then, fuck no, no hot mics in my house. And actually then, still no hot mics unless I've plugged my Les Paul into my amp, in which case I switched them on.
2) My phone is a $12 throw away that speaks voice and sms (text).
3) Loose lips sink ships.
1- Apple might not be interested in listening to its users but I'm sure other businesses are. Apple users are loyal customers who can pay twice for a piece of technology and some of them will happily spend a night in line to be able to do that. Most advertisers would pay big money to Apple to know who those people are and what they want; that information is like gold.
2- unfortunately advertisers aren't the only entity potentially interested in spying people.
I think its laughable that this money would be tempting to Apple when they have a business that almost sees customers buying 700-1000 dollar plus devices on an annual or bi-annual subscription, especially when the privacy stance is one of the core pillars of the marketing message.
There is likely no commercially viable business model Apple could adopt to sell that data that would be remotely worth risking a 60-70 billion dollar a quarter in revenue money printing machine. That information is practically worthless in the context of iPhone revenue.
Should iPhone sales start to falter, this is absolutely something I would consider a concern, but the iPhone has a long way to fall.
I can imagine a system that throws an extra byte or 2 on those "chats" with the cell tower, or even abuses the timing that it decides to reach out and check the tower as the method of communication.
The actual voice recording and processing tech is small enough that it could be thrown right alongside the actual phone, for pretty cheap, and could run entirely separate from the phone itself, maybe even having its own battery!
Or not be sufficient in both cases.
Maybe that's just what they want you to think so you don't dig any deeper.
Carriers also keep records of where subscriber devices have been, so even if your phone doesn't have GPS, the carrier has cell tower triangulation logs of the device too.
ISPs such as comcast also save your browsing history to run their advertising networks, so that is also recorded somewhere too. And if/when net neutrality goes away completely, they might just sell that info too:
Whats even worse about ISPs doing it is how you usually have no other choices and it's your complete traffic stream!
Your assertion that "nobody can prove that" is rather absurd.
Also, there's no reason for Amazon to want a constant stream of Alexa data hitting their cloud services. The goal is to mine and extract valuable data about users to build profiles, ideally you'd want to do that on-device and send up the most valuable bits.
These are also capabilities they can silently introduce at anytime for any device.
Steve Gibsons "analysis" means nothing.
You guys are way to paranoid. They're a public company and they are constantly under audit. They have explicitly stated in their white papers that the device has two computers, one that just listens for the "Alexa" keyword that activates the other one for signal processing.
Do you really think they would lie on those white papers? The government would be so far up their ass with fines it would be ridiculous. Not to mention people have actually done tear downs of the device and you can see the two computers and monitor the power input to each one as it runs. The "dumb" computer with minimal memory would be having to store hours of speech data until you say the keyword so it can transmit to the other computer.
And yes, I am proudly paranoid. History and experience have confirmed the need for my paranoia for many decades.
You must not have suffered a SOX audit before. Part of the audit is technical.
Also, the SEC greatly frowns upon lying about your business.
Do you know of any published Amazon audits that describe in detail what specifically around Alexa is audited, if anything?
I almost think that the burden of proof that things aren't being sent is a valid expectation in this point. And that proof needs to be re-confirmed with each firmware update to ensure a bug hasn't caused the behavior to change.
All you need is 1 SS7 link and you can be any phone, kick anyone off a cell site, override call congestion and bump people off, change the display on your phone to any text, too many things to name.
Uh... packet analyzers, IP logs, bandwidth monitoring tools etc...
If instead of transmitting occasional bursts of data when you say the wake word it's been sending back tens of megabytes an hour, or tens to hundreds of megabytes a day, you can go "hey, it's probably transmitting everything it hears".
There are people that religiously watch what these devices are sending back just to try and catch one of the companies doing something fishy. There are people that religiously watch their network traffic period looking for something nefarious.
These devices aren't like your phone, where simply having it on can have all sorts of services/apps using data in the background or you open a webpage and tens or even hundreds of different servers are contacted and data pulled/pushed to/from them. It's a device that should be periodically checking for an update and sending very small audio files back in nearly-real time. If they were recording regularly, or especially all the time, and transmitting it back to a server it would stand out like a sore thumb.
Never mind the fact that keeping it secret, and not having a whistle blower, would be damn impossible. Someone's going to mention it to a loved one or friend, or flat out go online "I discovered my Amazon/Google device is actively listening and recording and sending to these IPs in these intervals" when they just know it as fact and didn't have to 'discover' it.
Here are some staring points.  I would go with Opus. My voice chat server uses that.
 - https://stackoverflow.com/questions/167533/best-voice-compre...
But at the same time, you're convinced that you would notice if your phone was slipping out these kilobytes as part of its usual communication?
It seems to me that you've just arbitrarily picked a level of paranoia where you've decided that this can definitely happen with the Alexa, but won't happen with your phone. Your proud paranoia isn't applied consistently.
The risk of the throw away device uploading my audio is significantly lower than a device powered in my home, with dedicated fast internet.
Willingly putting a proprietary device designed to listen to you and watch you, created by a company that exists only to maximize it's shareholders profits by either selling you things, advertising to you or collecting and selling data about you in order to do those first two things better, into your home to constantly watch and listen to everything that goes on.
Control a computer by talking to it...
For me at least....that risk far outweighs whatever utility i migbt get by being able to speak to a computer and honestly, if i really needed it that bad i would just set up my computer with voice recognition and control software. It's existed for a while now. I remember playing with it when i was a kid...it sucked...but that was more than 15 years ago.
The only real novelty of alexa is that it'a a standalone box that answers you back.
Disclaimer: I'm a co-founder
We believe that people want more natural interaction and AI at home, but that it should never be at the cost of their privacy. You never know what a company, or hackers, could do with recordings from your home.
This is why we are creating AI which can work on a Raspberry Pi 3, and works in english, french, german, japanese, spanish, italian (more coming very soon)
Take a look at our blog if you want to build your own smart assistant: https://blog.snips.ai
Is this just a way to fundraise or do you have other ideas to make your product ‘decentralized’ aside from using a cryptocurrency?
For the record, everything else about the product looks amazing and I’m really excited to see an open and privacy conscience alternative in this space :)
- it allows to build a really decentralized marketplace
- it allows people to not share what are the apps they are buying, so to keep this private
I'm only asking because this would definitely help spread this kind of platform. Raspberry 3, despite being great, is not something the average Joe will mess it.
There needs to be a physical product with Snip.ai on it that people can put in their home. Something sleek and well designed, not some Rasp 3 in a case with some mic attached with duct tape.
I agree that the decisions that me and others are making are hugely damaging collectively but that is a different issue.
Fear mongering is nothing new, folks. The media is incentivized to cater to people in that way; this is why they use scare tactics and write BS articles like this one which boil down to "someone fucked up, sent the data for one customer to another customer". Furthermore, the article implies this mixup would NEVER have happened if the user's had not requested their data be released per GPDR.
The only valid question worth asking is this: are you willing to risk ANY chance of your data being compromised? Google/Apple/et.al. are not the enemy. For most users, convenience trumps security, and they will accept the minimal risk that comes with using services like Alexa and Google Photos.
FWIW, I've lost years of photos and data before on my first run-a-round with FreeNAS. It's not something that's just easy for the average user or even average developer to use and deploy reliably. I'm trying FreeNAS again now 4 years later, but it's taken way more work than I expected to understand my options and ZFS, and I'm still not sure I'll ever store anything critical on it.
OK, cool. So as long as I don't assert my rights under data protection regulations, Amazon probably won't orchestrate a grotesque breach of my privacy?
We have to expect as users of cloud software there is a chance our data could be compromised by BUGS or human error. I think that should be a given in any scenario. There's a difference between releasing data to third parties (or internal employees having access) as a matter of standard practice, and an unexpected breach or error in process leading to accidental disclosure of personal data.
As a reader, I am uninterested in articles about the latter. It's clickbait / doomsday journalism. The most interesting stories are those about grave errors in judgment/behavior and cases that indicate a company has routinely breached user trust. I do not agree that "employee mistakes" fall in that category.
It's amazing to me that people are actively seeking to erode society as greatly as they are. The fact is, it's not better to have these systems long term. So what if it saves you even 10 minutes a day (which I highly doubt), if eventually someone comes to power that will decide to kill you and your families based on your prior beliefs.
Today we are seeing a more subtle manipulation of politics using all the data these large companies collect. I can't imagine what would happen if there was a concerted effort to "weed out" bad eggs.
If they can't see it they're fine with it.
For example, if someone is walking in the mall they're being filmed by a dozen cameras.
But if you walk behind them with your own handheld camera photographing them they will get VERY angry and freak out and start yelling at you.
Yet nothing has changed...
Same thing with Facebook. People don't mind giving their data to Facebook but if Zuck was staring over their shoulders reading their email they would be upset.
Now that I can use my Apple Music, they are used constantly.
Voice-first devices are long overdue.
Voice first running entirely on prem with no internet connectivity, sure I would go for that.
Talking to the internet? No way. Not even if I had root on the device with the source code to the OS, firmware and applications.
Can you explain how this is different from running your linux computer with a webcam attached?
I can also debug any code running on my machines and have some idea of what they are doing. I can also limit when they are allowed to talk to the internet and to what address.
Can't you debug code and control network access in that scenario?
For example: Nearly all cell phones check in to their manufactures website from time to time. Nearly all of them look for a header that triggers a debug mode that turns on CarrierIQ. (It isn't called this any more, AT&T renamed it to an empty name to stop people from searching for it).
Trying to find obscure functions and understand how they interact with the servers they check into can be very difficult at best. It often leads to more questions than answers, at least based on my experience.
In the meantime, I’m “feeding” my devices every day.
Hopefully voice-first becomes a solved problem, and you’ll get your device sooner.
I believe it was made by a company called Covox or something? There were several other companies that made similar software back then.
Certainly not as well as the software we implemented to listen to phone calls in the background on wireless networks in the mid 90's. That was the wildfire project and was fun. We abandoned it, since our lobbyists were able to kick the hands-free laws down the road.
Sure, that's not really anything that anyone disagrees with. It's the acceptance of data collection and exfiltration that is odd.
Everyone needs to draw a line somewhere, I just don't see a reason to use voice assistants, definitely not with internet connectivity and where the company keeps all recordings for some reason.
Google gives you a UI to view and delete your recordings and suddenly they're monsters.
To see exactly what outbound connections were made by which device and which app when either device was being actively used, or laying dormant?
This is how it was discovered in the UK that SmartTVs were sending viewing data....
The irony is the ability for mass survelence (by unelected corporations) is far more than they had in 1984
To be less baffled, think about how many of us have those devices under a different name: Our phone.
Functionally I do not see the decides any differently. Yet, I think everyone I know has an Ok Google, Hey Siri, or Ok Bigsbi (however you spell it lol).
I'm not going to lie, for some reason Alexa makes me more concerned than my phone. Yet, the logical part of me fails to see a meaningful difference between my phone and an Alexa.
Disclaimer: I own an iPhone, I do not own an Alex/HomePod/etc.
It's this thing where you somehow believe that just by being an expert in some field, bad things in this very field can't happen to you, even if it's out of your control. Like a brain surgeon suddenly getting a tumor in his own brain.
2) The chances of a mishap like this happening to a single user are very very small.
3) Even if a mishap like this occurs, the chances of it causing meaningful harm for most people are small.
The fact that you are baffled by this phenomenon says a lot more about you than it does about users of these products.
A good indicator of that is your reference of the Stasi.
I am baffled by people that think anyone cares about their conversation about Jeff at work or what Monica and Ross just did on the 75th viewing of an episode of friends, or that they talk to their stuffed rabbit named Bun that they've had since about a week after they were born about how miserable their life is and how they should just pack up and run away together... I mean...
"oh no, big bad google knows I shouted 'oi shut the fuck up' four times instead of three at the neighbors today" and "oh no, Amazon knows I asked what we want for dinner"
I guess I must be weird and other people are having extremely sensitive, if not classified, conversations in their residence but I just don't see what the big deal is.
Most of the people I personally know that find it bizarre people would have such a device have rewards cards, smart phones, take every damn quiz that myspace and facebook have ever had, checked in religiously with foursquare, tag their friends in every photo they upload seven times a day from every place they've been that day, check in everywhere they go on facebook and have 2+ streaming services monitoring every single thing they watch. Like, hellloooooo you're worried about a microphone that can't even get "hey alexa" "hey google" right half the time and actually trigger?
Why people object to have e.g. their financial or medical information disclosed?
Yes, there are people who are "sheep" in the sense that they would do anything if there is some voucher or discount for it. But most people would also object to a camera in their bedroom or photos of their kids being posted publicly online for everyone to see.
You are right that most of the stuff is absolutely mundane, especially in isolation. However, with a bit of analysis one could suddenly learn things about you that you would likely want to keep private - e.g. your sexual fetishes, whether or not you have some illness (insurers and some employers would kill for such info!), your political views, ton of data about your interests, which TV shows you are watching, etc. That's an absolute bonanza of data that makes any marketer salivate and see dollar signs. And a gold mine for all sorts of stalkers and creeps too.
People are not up in arms. Some group of media and tech people are up in arms. Most do not care. Heck, most do not even hear about the latest scandal.
Who? Leo Laporte? Kara Swisher? Talking heads on cable news? It's their job to be shocked and outraged.
Who is? Outside of HN I haven't heard a single thing about it. People don't care.
What's baffling is how many times this same conversation has played out and people like you still don't get it.
I grew up in an Eastern Europe Communist State where this kind of personal surveillance was the norm. People went and wrote down all their interactions with others. You can see these documents now as the former secret police archives were published (what wasn't destroyed to protect the higher ups).
It's amazing how the most innocuous remarks can be used against yourself in an unbelivable twists. Just an example:
Person A criticized person C, which was his boss, as being incompetent, to person B, which was a secretly delator. Person B went and reported to the secret police this tension, as he was payed on the number of pages he would write.
The secret police compiled a weekly report of stuff that would happen, in each company, and send it up to the party for review. It just happened in the party that somebody who saw the report had frictions with that Boss, and he used that report to push the Boss around. The Boss thought that person A himself wrote the report, and used his connections to get person A fired, and banned, on the party line, from ever having a qualified-work position again - ie he could not be an engineer, teacher, or anything, leaving him with just construction work or janitorial jobs.
How often do you bitch about your boss? How would you like that your boss gets reports about what you bitch about him in your own home? How would you like that what you say, no matter how private you want it to be, is always recorded?
I'm astounded by the fact that people see nothing wrong having these devices always listening to them.
>I grew up in an Eastern Europe Communist State where this kind of personal surveillance was the norm.
Do you feel the same about smartphones? They record location, are capable of recording audio and video, if you have wifi and/or bluetooth on they can record every device ID you come within range of, they can in theory record everything you do in every app you use.
Don't get me wrong, I recognize the surveillance value/implications of such devices. As Pokemon Go was starting to initially gain popularity I even wrote a piece showing how such an app would be extremely useful as a tool for HUMINT.
TLDR: You create a game location, like a gym, in an area you want to surveil or deploy a rare spawn in a location you want to surveil. You then sprinkle it out on social media geo-targeting, then people flock to the area with their app that already chew through data and point their phone's camera all around the area giving you video and audio that you can either pull in real time at a risky data-cost or grab still images and then decide if you want to compress captured video and send it or leave it uncompressed and upload when the device connects to WiFi next.
Here's the post https://www.ryanmercer.com/ryansthoughts/2016/7/11/pokmon-go... and please, 'pokemon go funded by the CIA' was not something I believe then or now but there is a direct connection to the U.S. intelligence community via funding John Hanke received for a previous company.
That kind of sounds like a self inflicted wound if they actually cared about privacy.
This is all said with the presumption that the devices actually are surreptitiously recording. Which is far from proven but already addressed by other comments here.
I even used the example of a phone recording you being bad because that wasn't the primary purpose of the device when bought. That argument obviously applies to laptops for the same reason.
But if you as a consumer decide to buy a device who's literal only purpose is to record you, then you don't also get to cry out about it recording you. That's the very definition of a self inflicted wound.