- it's a speaker with extra features. At about the same price as a bluetooth speaker, and I need a better one of those, the extra features are basically free as long as the audio quality is good.
- it can answer questions at the dinner table. My wife and I both have the annoying habit of pulling out our phones to answer questions that come up during conversation. Asking "Alexa" instead would be much more socially pleasant.
- it can stream music without the hassle of bluetooth. Bluetooth streaming becomes less convenient when you don't know which of the many computers, phones or tablets were used to start the music, or where it is...
- my three year old can probably figure out how to use it
Thought I'd throw those out there, and start a "positive" thread. This discussion is overwhelmingly negative. Lots of good points being made in the negative comments, but there are some nice positives, too.
that would be my biggest use for it, well that and as a speaker I guess. I really hope that I can swap out "Alexa" for the word "Computer" so I could feel like I'm one step closer to Star Trek
What brain/neuron plasticity tells us is that our brains literally reallocate unused neurons for other tasks. So, on the one hand, a positive theory might have it that offloading more mundane tasks would free our brains for higher order thinking and creativity, etc.
But, it seems that we are instead finding more ways to distract ourselves with less meaningful "leisure" activity.
I don't know that we will literally start getting dumber, but it's hard to know whether we are headed in a good direction as the future gets closer to the now.
We are getting worse at things that used to be considered 'smart' -- like information retention -- but we're better at using information because we have much more access to it now even than very smart people did in the 20th century.
One difference is that technology is replacing more and more of what we one might consider "mundane", but really involves higher order thinking that is important for creativity, critical-thinking, problem-solving, etc. For instance, the ability to draw from a broad swath of stored, assimilated, and well-understood information is a critical element of problem-solving and finding creative solutions.
Because functional intelligence to a large degree involves drawing on information and experiences to assemble solutions. This requires a "working set" from which to draw. It is not enough to simply look things up, because you don't know what to look up.
And, in general, what computers do for us that, say, simply printing or other older "technology" didn't supplant includes executive functioning (e.g. algorithmic tasks like mapping directions, etc.) Beyond simple information retrieval, computers actually solve problems for us. In fact, it's so different from something like printing that I am not sure I understand your analogy.
>we're better at using information because we have much more access to it now
Sounds intuitive, but I am not sure we have evidence for this. Ironically, though, computers are better at using information.
>it is actually more efficient to spend our time learning other things
I mentioned that this could be one theoretical upshot but, in general, I think our culture is going in the opposite direction with a tendency towards mindless distraction. Exclude tech people and reconsider your statement.
If it's not listening how can it hear the wake word?
Out of curiosity, are you already embedded in the amazon cloud music ecosystem? I'm one of those luddites who still has a library of mp3s—I don't want to have to figure out what I can or can't get on some compatible streaming service here. That would be a lovely feature—if it had an aux-in port or bluetooth compatibility so I could still use it as a dumb speaker. Smart TV's still have inputs, e.g.
Additionally, if I'm not mistaken, it's monophone? Dual-driver, but only one "360-degree" channel of some sort?
This may just be wishful thinking on my part, however.
It repeated it back (incorrectly) and then she got stuck in a loop of saying "not cala, cala!" and it repeating it back, getting more frustrated each time.
For instance, in airplane mode with no network access iPhone response to 'Hey Siri' is 'Siri is not available. Connect to internet'
Prove it. Seriously, don't speculate like this until it's proven one way or the other. Prove that it violates my privacy and then we will talk.
Why don't you "prove" that all the metadata is not used for commercial purposes, and that metadata isn't available to government agencies.
I fail to see how this is any more a possible privacy breach than my iPhone that's laying right next to me right now.
The probability that my privacy was compromised by a mandatory court subpoena is very low, hence the person used "rarely touched privacy".
Premising your argument about government agencies all over the world is argumentum ad absurdum.
You made the positive claim, you are the one who needs to provide evidence. Until you do, a rational mind is well justified in disbelieving your claim.
I've requested an invite.
I see it as a replacement for the ditigal photoframe pc I built a few years back out of an old laptop and have in my kitchen. Its running XP with a heap of autoIT scripts I hacked together, controlled by an MCE remote. I use it every day to listen to news headlines and check the weather while making my morning coffee and for streaming jazz while cooking dinner.
I think I'd prefer asking Echo to play these things than going through the hassle of upgrading the photoframe pc from XP.
I'd gain some functions such as easier music streaming, shopping list stuff, etc. I'd lose a few functions; I occassionally use VNC on the photoframe pc to display a recipe or twitch stream. I can do the recipe on my phone and put the twitch stream on my TV and turn it so I can see it from the kitchen.
Consumers are frighteningly amenable to reducing
their security in favor of convenience. Often
they are oblivious to the tradeoff altogether.
Evidence of this trend has increased since 9/11,
as increasingly paranoid legislation made its
way through congress at the behest of corporate
stakeholders. It should hardly be surprising that
now, with the NSA privileged enough to be openly
flaunting its surveillance, those same corporate
stakeholders are investing in companies that sell
listening devices to millions of Americans. I am
making a paranoid argument, but it's not ungrounded,
and certainly not surprising, because paranoia breeds
paranoia. Pass paranoid legislation, face a paranoid
populace. The American people are rightfully skeptical
of their government.
Perhaps it sounds absurd to segment the world into
the "populace" and "government," but did it sound
absurd when you read those terms in high school
history books? Over spans of centuries, politics is
viewed in the same terms: the people, and the
government. Maybe you and I do not think of ourselves
in the context of centuries. But what about Barack Obama? Vladimir Putin? It seems logical to assume they see themselves in the context of world leaders past. Modern leaders occupy unprecedented seats of power over the largest populace ever. If they are internally comparing themselves
to each other and their predecessors, then we have a problem. We cannot trust the world leaders, because they
do not view themselves on the same level as us. Faced with an increasingly empowered and growing populace, they could
react any way. We'll see.
(Yes, I'm trying to get on a list at the NSA. It's an
experiment I'm doing. Hopefully I hit enough keywords
 Yes, transmission is triggered on-chip, but who verifies
every chip fabrication is performed using the same imprints?
You think governments don't have factory floor managers in
I think your focus on 'the people vs the government' is misplaced, because government is just a sort of social technology which can be used and abused like any other technology depending on who controls it at the time. What about Barack Obama, for example? Do you seriously think he will refuse to relinquish power in 2 years? You probably don't, just' just expressing your cynical (and entirely justifiable) opinion about the political class. But that's not much different from a Marxist asserting that business is fundamentally antagonistic towards workers or similar monolithic abstractions. When you make arguments like this you've opted for ideology over empiricism.
Bringing it back to technology, certainly the ubiquity of digital technology makes it easier to establish mass surveillance of a kind that would have seemed nightmarish a few generations ago. But the same technology has also facilitated a significant number of populist uprisings in recent years, and made it far easier for marginalized communities to get their message out in relatively short order, as well as facilitating organizations with both benign and malicious intentions (eg MSF and ISIS, who both leverage social media but for wildly divergent ends).
The internet of things isn't 'coinciding with the dragnet surveillance trend'; the latter is an emerging property of our increasingly networked society. When we use metaphors like a 'world wide web' traversed by 'spiders' and so on, we should not be surprised that such technologies are going to amplify the capabilities of institutional actors in at least the same proportion that they amplify the capabilities of individuals.
Maybe you didn't mean it literally but it's a popular expression in this context. I don't think a desire for privacy is paranoid; it is normal, healthy behavior.
But to address the gist of what you say, I think you assume an understanding of data security that is far beyond most end users. How many even know what "metadata" means, or how 'cloud' computing actually works? Go down to the mall (assuming you are not in a tech hub) and ask. On top of that, they would need to understand the confidentiality implications of the system, and then the political, social and other implications of confidentiality.
The public is not able to make an informed decision, and government and industry are taking advantage of that:
If people don't mind, why are so many of these practices kept secret or obscure?
But to address the gist of what you say, I think you assume an understanding of data security that is far beyond most end users.
I don't think I do. I've met plenty of non-technical people who worry about the possibility that their phone could record them when its swtiched off or suchlike - you don't need to understand how something functions in order to understand its potential as an instrumentality. But unless you have a fundamentally antagonist view of government (which most people in the US don't) then there's little overlap between the set of 'stuff the government could do me' and that of 'stuff that would advance the government's purpose' for the average person. This is what I mean when I say most people don't feel culpable enough; there isn't anything sufficiently illegal going on in their lives that they perceive a significant government interest in intruding upon them in the first place.
When I talk about paranoia I mean the idea that government is going to fuck with you no matter how blameless of a life you lead, and that the more blameless you are the less leverage you will have to push back against the inevitable intrusion. In other words, they overestimate the probability of oppression just as optimistic or authoritarian people may underestimate it, depending on context. While that possibility certainly exists, I think something like this Amazon product only marginally increases it because anyone who buys this probably already has a smartphone and keeps it close by at all times already.
I hear this refutation quite often. I find it typically comes from people in a place of privilege that the system largely ignores. I've read far too many accounts from people who are not Caucasian or are Muslim to believe that innocent people are not the targets of mass surveillance and do not notice its effects.
It's designed to watch anyone.
The legal apparatus is designed to watch anyone.
Have you been under a rock the last few years?
That's really well put. People seem to miss the fact that in a surveillance society it's not necessarily your privacy that you will most regret losing, it's the privacy of those groups you agree with who are opposed to some powerful faction.
Speaking of empiricism, there's abundant evidence that your statement is incorrect:
http://www.pewresearch.org/key-data-points/views-of-governme... (and this one was before Snowden!)
We on Hacker News spend our free time criticizing anyone we perceive as complicit in surveillance, bemoaning centralization, and championing Bitcoin and Uber for disrupting authority. To HN, a desire for privacy is literally normal: it is a social norm of this community.
That doesn't mean that people outside this community do (or should) care nearly as much as we do.
Part of the reason we care more is because we understand more.
But, in general, I think there is not nearly enough emphasis put on what's right vs. what people care about. That is, the former doesn't dictate the latter.
I think it's healthy to choose how private you keep each aspect of your personal life. I make tradeoffs all the time. When I think that sharing some aspect of my personal life (whether with an individual or an organization) will give me more benefit than the cost of losing that privacy, I'll do it.
Insane paranoia is hearing "cloud-based audio processing device and service" and instantly jumping to "the NSA" absent a single damned fact to support that conclusion.
Downvotes don't make me wrong or you right.
Cell phones are routinely used as listening devices, what makes you think this device would not be? If I were a government agency intent on omniscience (i.e. the NSA), this device, along with televisions and computers with always-on microphones controlled remotely, would be a very welcome development - all it takes is one secret order to the company concerned, with a warrant covering the entire country, and their entire product line is useful for surveillance on demand.
Given the world we live in, where GCHQ for example claims the right to capture all information, including privileged communications between lawyer and client, wondering about how our devices protect against government intrusion is not insane paranoia at all.
Citation? I'm really interested, presumably there's a hacker convention talk or somesuch where they install a hidden service on a standard phone and upload all voice input even when the phone is off?
Clearly I use burner non-smart phones for my criminal activities (that's a joke!) so they're going to have to use other means. Obviously they can still sniff the data at the operator for phone calls.
Here's another article about real-world use:
William Binney [ex-NSA]: "Yes. [... goes off on a tangent about data analysis]
He doesn't really mention it. Indeed the vid is considering electronic communications and information which is put in to the public sphere. Other than that one question which Binney responds to only with "Yes" there's no other mention of private audio being covertly sniffed.
The BBC article is very sparse and jumps from being able to eavesdrop mobile->basestation and decrypt that to being able to listen in on all conversations within range of a phone. Clearly ludicrous.
I don't at all doubt that phones can be modified remotely to covertly listen and that some phones could enable this when switched off (though that seems unlikely to meet with normal design requirements, it seems that this covert listening would need to be designed in). I guess maybe you could make "off" only appear to be off whilst listening - my phone gets hot when doing anything extended like recording a talk or something and drains the battery quite a lot - even with the screen off. Seems that using this sort of surveillance on a widescale is highly unlikely.
>"all it takes is one secret order to the company concerned, with a warrant covering the entire country, and their entire product line is useful for surveillance on demand" [grey-area, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8569217]
Only, IMO, if it's already been designed in and you can hide the power usage (and data-store usage).
That quote was about this Amazon device anyway, which doesn't have power usage or data usage requirements that would be noticed by the average user if recording was only for significant audio. You've jumped from there to cell phones.
The access is blanket given warrants like the FISA verizon one, and there's nothing to stop targeted surveillance like that which we know goes on on gmail/skype/etc accounts when requested. To be clear, I'm not suggesting that cell phones or this device are all constantly recording what we do and transmitting direct to the NSA right now, but that they could in a targeted manner be used to do so if someone became of interest, and that this Amazon device would be a particularly powerful bug given the great microphones, constant power and fixed location in a home.
Re cell phones, I don't think it would be very hard to present a blank screen and wake up only on significant audio to record/broadcast on a hacked phone. I'm sure a paranoid user would eventually notice, but the capability is certainly there - probably that sort of thing is very rare and sophisticated, it's not something I worry about personally, but I do think it is quite possible. If you control the software on the device, I don't see why it seems impossible to you that you'd be able to control the phone completely and use it as an audio bug (except when battery removed etc). You wouldn't even have to rely on faking switch-off - the majority of people leave their phone on and carry it around.
Well, I'm inclined to believe Binney (and others) when they explicitly say cellphones are used as bugs, but here's another example for you of actual use, they are not hard to find:
Thank you for the clarification, and I apologize if my tone earlier was excessively acerbic - the angle you just mentioned appears to be an undertone surrounding this discussion.
but that they could in a targeted manner be used to do so if someone became of interest
Here's where we diverge: This is an argument that can be applied to any internet-connected device, anywhere, anytime. We're dealing with a group of people that have proven themselves adept at twisting a device's programming to their own ends.
So: Why is this so special? Why are so many people sitting here in this thread slagging on this particular internet-connected mic when most of us carry one with us and work in front of one every single day?
I'm sure I'm not alone in growing weary of hearing the constant "NSA!!" bogeyman brought up anytime a new device featuring a microphone comes out. There's no new information here, no interesting discussion, just the same usual "X might do Y" scaremongering. With the previous paragraph in mind, these concerns ring hypocritical in addition to just hollow.
It's going to take a high-profile case to show people how wrong this is. Wait for it.
Here's some potential scenarios:
* An author who is researching dangerous-sounding stuff and discussing it with his friends for a book is SWAT teamed and shot dead. Later investigation reveals overzealous "parallel construction."
* Someone at one of these companies is busted insider trading on information from these sources. Surveillance targets include lawyers, CXO-level personnel, etc.
* Creepy misogynistic black-hat hackers break into the network behind one of these devices and start using it to engage in cyber-stalking against women and record their sexual encounters, posting the results to 4chan and Reddit.
* HIPAA or other similar regulations are spectacularly violated, resulting in large cash damages.
* Someone is busted pwning the "cloud-enhanced Internet of things" (surveillance) devices of police officers and selling feeds to drug traffickers and the mob.
... I could keep going.
It's very unlikely that there would be a single turning point case a la Pearl Harbor or 9-11. More likely it's an aggregation of small cases followed by slow adjustments in a different direction. As an example of the latter, consider how incarceration seems to have peaked in the US and we're seeing the beginnings of a fall as well as a shift away from incarceration as the default response. I would predict the fraction of the population that is incarcerated to fall by 10% in 10 years and by 50% in 25 years. Likewise we're seeing pushback against the militarization of police, but how that particular pendulum swings is going to be measured out over budgetary cycles rather than in real time. I think that if you were to plot utility vs security on a graph you'd see a random walk of incremental fluctuating changes rather than massive discontinuities.
For instance, most people understand cameras - they've been around since birth. And, most would be uncomfortable if there was a visible camera on every surface, pointed at them. There's an understanding that there's a 'watcher' at the other end of that picture or video. In fact, as cameras emerged, some cultures rejected them as a technology that could 'steal the soul'.
But, today, most people don't understand the 'sensors' that are everywhere, tracking their behavior. Not only are the sensors invisible, they're not something that most people are even aware of or understand. Many of us are in this business, and I'd suggest that most of us aren't even aware of all of them.
These sensors are similarly 'stealing our souls', but we don't even know that it's happening.
What economical benefit is this thing bringing its users
Empiricism _is_ an ideology. People seem to forget that around here.
Just because I can legally have sex with my wife doesn't mean I want the government to have a recording of it. Some things are meant to stay private.
The point I'm making, though, is not what level of privacy you should be happy with (a decision only you can make), but how people in the aggregate make decisions about using technology that could have privacy implications - and my theory is that most people don't care.
"Most people don't care [about privacy] because they're not culpable enough to feel paranoid."
Let be honest, I don't have a sex life.
If you're willing to accept changed chip silicon as a possible attack vector, then you need to start worrying about a rather large set of devices. Your laptop is internet connected and has a microphone. So is your phone. Your TV is probably internet connected, and if you're fiddling with the production line, why not add a tiny microphone? I could go on.
An attacker with a good budget, influence and capability like the NSA is always going to be able to snoop on an individual if the requirement is strong enough. Some hardware limitations probably set the bar high enough that you don't need to worry unless you're an international terrorist.
> you don't need to worry unless you're an international terrorist.
Or a person with a conscience who could be threat to people in power without one. For some reason I doubt that, say, people involved in extra-judicial killings, are really worried about being caught. At least one of them is known by name and proud holder of a peace nobel prize. So I'd say if you are a heavyweight criminal already on the payroll, you have nothing to fear period. Small fish and decent people, on the other hand, well. Do you think people like Poitras or Appelbaum don't get snooped on? Would you call them international terrorists? All sorts of activist groups get monitored, and no, it's not because they're all terrorists in spe. You may believe that, I don't buy it for one second.
> Your laptop is internet connected and has a microphone. So is your phone. Your TV is probably internet connected, and if you're fiddling with the production line, why not add a tiny microphone? I could go on.
Don't have a laptop, if I did, killing the crappy microphone in it would be trivial and not a big loss since when I use a mic, it's one I connect manually. Don't have a smartphone, though I doubt that matters; but my phone doesn't have 7 microphones in it, and I doubt you could record anything useful with it while I have it in my pocket. Last time I had a TV was in the 90s. So maybe actually do go on?
And even if none of that was true, I don't see how it constitutes an argument; as I said, it's a bit like saying I shouldn't worry about the poison I just ate because I also have cancer. How about I worry about, and try to undo, both? I don't care about chance of success either, I can still get washed downstream when I am a dead fish, there will always be infinite time for that.
In the past, you used to have to have physical access to the location to install the device. You also needed a listening post close by and a power source to hook the device into, if you wanted long term monitoring.
After you install the listening device, you needed to pay someone to listen to the conversations for hours and take note of anything that needed closer analysis.
All of that is incredibly expensive and difficult to scale.
Now, the device is already installed in the home or carried around on the person (via smartphone). The target takes care of charging the device for you and the information is transmitted across the country via internet connection. Massive computer networks process the data and flag the important parts of conversations.
The cheaper and more automated spying gets, the easier and more indiscriminately it can be done. Criteria for snooping drops because it's so dramatically cheap, the resources are no longer a bottleneck.
I mean, when you visit your friend, stop at a girlfriends apartment, or hang out with people at the pub, are you checking if they have any of these devices? Do you search their shelves for an Echo? Do you ask everyone at the restaurant if they have a smartphone with a microphone connected to the internet?
It's impossible to avoid things like this in your life. The second you walk outside, you're surrounded by cameras and microphones that can be streaming anything, to anyone.
Facebook is another example. You might say, I don't want to enter where I live, or where I went to school, I feel that's sensitive information. Well, since you refuse to give up that information, Facebook just encourages your friends to squeal. Hey, does John Doe live in X or Y city? Did you go to university with John Doe? Hey, why don't you upload more photos of John Doe, and tell us the time and location that photo was taken. Actually, no need to tag him, we'll just detect his face, and use the date the photo was created.
It's not going to be long until you can search a person, and see a timeline of their life based on data from third parties. Let's watch John Doe's life for 2018. Oh look, Jan 15, he appears in the background of a tourists photo by the Eiffel tower. Jan 21st, we detected is face on the metro in southern France. Oh, Jan 28th, a car dash cam finds him walking down a street in Italy. Oh, his phone was on and we can see he was in Jane's apartment Feb 1st. Let's pull the audio from the microphone on Jane's television for that day.
You have an excellent comment, but you fail at ponting at how this info may be used against you and providing usecases. Should sound like: "On Feb 1st your car is recorded on the leftish party's parking lot" "On Feb 2nd you are arrested in person at a friend's place for the speed excess of Jan 26th. Police automatically suponead your network's Echos".
What you do can be construed as criminal if the prosecutor is interested enough.
Do you have any computers in your house? A TV made in the last few years? A smartphone?
> Do you have any computers in your house? A TV made in the last few years? A smartphone?
Neither the first nor the last of those is necessarily always on or Internet connected. (For example, I have both of them, and, with brief exceptions, neither is Internet connected while in my house.)
(Also, to be fair to chatmasta (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8568265), I think that s/he was suggesting that the Internet connection / voice-recording function is on whenever the device is, not that the device itself can never be turned off.)
“She’ll get years for that. Off switches are illegal.”
— Max Headroom, season 1, episode 6: “The Blanks”, 1987
The echo has a better mic and is guaranteed to not be in a pocket, but that isn't the multiple order of magnitude difference that the cell phone has brought to dragnet surveillance.
I have a running joke about this with my mom. The particular list that people like you and me get put on is called the "patriot file." Fortunately, it's way too big of a list for them to follow up on thoroughly, so if your phone conversation (or comment) ends up there, you're really OK.
Despite whether either threat is real or not, I'm less concerned about my facebook privacy being violated and more concerned with foreign and domestic threats of violence.
I have a choice not to use facebook or amazon echo, or whatever. Problem solved on that front. I don't have a choice if somebody wants to fly a plane into dense metro areas with the goal of killing as many people as possible.
Are you telling me that you feel amazon echo is a larger potential threat to your security than alleged terrorist organizations?
Ostensibly. In real life these powers have been used for all sorts of activities outside this sort of apparently existential threat - for example spying on lawyers in civil rights cases. It's not clear they are useful against well-organised terror, that terror is actually the existential threat you seem to think it is, or that any usefulness outweighs their dramatic effect on our civil society.
Your fear of the extremely unlikely event of you being killed in a terror attack is being used to blind you to the other consequences of surveillance.
while the people's paranoia is that the NSA knows what I ate for breakfast.
False. The people's paranoia is that these powers will be used to spy on innocents who are rightly or wrongly suspected of any sort of wrongdoing, collect their communications with their politicians, lawyers, and accountants, and undermine the very democracy and open society spy agencies claim to be defending.
You don't have a choice about this, it's already happening, with or without your consent, because our spy agencies are determined to dominate every aspect of your digital life.
Amazon, get me all the queries from the leeber household for the last 25 years containing the word 'drugs' or 'taxes' - perhaps you are the ex-girlfriend or potential partner of someone at the NSA, perhaps you just annoyed someone with access or got in the way of a project they think is vital for their org.
Amazon, please commence recording all audio activity on the leeber household device, using this handy secret global warrant from the FISA court, you don't need to know why, just that I ticked the box saying it is necessary for an ongoing investigation.
As for Amazon the corporation, this device would put you very much in their hands when you want to know anything about the world, be it about media, products or news, in the same way that relying exclusively on google search does for google. I imagine their motivation is having a huge amount of customer data about trending devices/brands/news etc in order to sell things to you better. Perhaps you'd be happy in the warm, smothering embrace of Amazon corp, but I prefer to limit my exposure to corps to small doses, and ideally not to ones which want to sell me everything I ever wanted, along with a few things I didn't know I wanted.
As for NOT everyone is...trying to enslave all humanity etc, your arguments would have more force if you resisted wrestling with tinfoil men of your own invention and talked about what is government agencies and corps actually do in the real world, instead of credulously repeating their excuses for working towards global realtime surveillance of all communications.
Do yourself a huge favor and pick a god damn book. I suggest 1984 by George Orwell.
To be effectively paranoid like the grandparent commenter, one would have to opt out of a _lot_ of convenience. If you're actually a person of interest to the point of being surveilled with an Echo, you'll be surveilled with all your other digital devices as well.
Hell - the Echo would be incredibly limited relative to those other devices. It only captures specific rooms in your home. Those other devices follow you throughout the day.
I wouldn't put something like the Echo in my house. Similarly, my Smart TV isn't connected to the internet. But I'm not afraid of carrying a smart phone with me wherever I go.
Two completely different things in my opinion. One requires specific targeting (which I'm OK with to a point), and the other can be collected with a dragnet.
That's irrelevant. That's merely one of the possibly ways that triggers transmission, but not necessarily the only way. Do we know that remote triggering over the network (perhaps implemented for testing) isn't possible?
You just described many peoples computers
What if the government mistakenly determines that based on your pattern of activities, you're likely to engage in a criminal act? What if it denies you the right to fly? What if the government thinks your financial transactions look odd—even if you've done nothing wrong—and freezes your accounts? What if the government doesn't protect your information with adequate security, and an identity thief obtains it and uses it to defraud you? Even if you have nothing to hide, the government can cause you a lot of harm.
Is there a good book or site with a nice list of scenarios that don't involve an evil government and a heroic anti-conformist fighting the system, that show that a mass surveillance system can do already enough harm because of factors that can be explained by Hanlon's razor alone?
Btw, the freezing of bank accounts happened to me once in Italy, curtesy of my bank and theoir automatic implementations of anti money laundering laws; promptly sorted out after calling in in the bank, but I was actually quite annoyed that I had to let people see me give fail to complete the ATM transaction at a till. Call it first world problem, but I think there should be more transparency with these things, at least they should notify people when they block accounts.
Also, I find it very difficult to relate to the whole, "I have nothing to hide, so fuck all the other people who do," attitude that many people seem to have.
"Doing X benefits me. Sod everyone else"
I am fully aware of this attitude that many people seem to have.
> What if the government doesn't protect your information with adequate security, and an identity thief obtains it and uses it to defraud you? Even if you have nothing to hide, the government can cause you a lot of harm.
It comes down to whether you trust your government. The government is here to protect its people, not screw them up.
But I don't.
Neither do you.
You carry a smart-phone that presumably has GPS, a microphone, and a camera everywhere you go. There's a camera and microphone on your laptop too. Both are cloud connected. If the NSA (or any other super-power) wants to spy on you, they can and will. I believe we've learned that if nothing else w/ all of Snowden's revelations.
IMO if you detest this device's privacy it can only because either:
A) You take your privacy VERY seriously, to the point you avoid most mainstream technology and exclusively use burner feature-phones and Tor
B) You trust Amazon less than you trust Google, Apple, or others.
I am going to assume it's more the latter than the former. (If not, you really do not represent the mainstream and this audience isn't what I expected).
So assuming B, question for you: why don't you trust Amazon? I actually trust Amazon more than I trust Google or Apple. They have always delivered for me as a customer, and I believe they've always put me first.
*Edited to correct former/latter reversal.
> You carry a smart-phone that presumably has GPS, a microphone, and a camera everywhere you go. There's a camera and microphone on your laptop too. Both are cloud connected. If the NSA (or any other super-power) wants to spy on you, they can and will.
People are regularly discovering and shaming companies for transmitting more information than necessary from smart phones. It's true that the NSA could zero-day your phone, but you've still got opportunities to detect or react to that. If nothing else, put your phone in airplane mode.
This device, on the other hand, is designed to transmit everything it hears. There is no way to tell where that data goes and it may be difficult to determine exactly what it contains. Where it's possible to determine if your phone is sending unauthorized data, it seems very hard in this situation.
I don't trust amazon more or less than anyone else. I think we should just be honest about the nature of a device. A phone has an "offline" mode, this does not - its whole purpose is to be an omnipresent microphone. Those are two fundamentally different things.
Not necessarily true, a catch phrase programmed on-board is used to activate the device. If the device was constantly transmitting voice data to Amazon I would have to guess that the leakage of data would be picked up and could be exposed. I still don't think the smart phone analogy is dissimilar, if not worse than the Echo in terms of the privacy implications. What if a catch phrase was programmed into your phone (for instance a list of words a 'terrorist' might use), and it only sent recorded/geo/image/contact information for a short time after it was used? I don't think that would be an easy privacy compromise to spot if you didn't know the catch phrase. Not to mention that many people's smartphones are constantly transmitting location data to Google, without complaint.
The open-sourciness (while not complete) also eludes to what is being stored and shipped to these "megacorps" who have "nefarious" purposes.
I would be more worried about a small third-party flashlight app dev selling your ocntact list and gps history, as opposed to a company with a billion active users.
I think you're asking the wrong question. It's about the company's motivation.
Google makes money from your data, and by showing you ads.
Amazon makes money by creating services and devices that sell you products.
Apple makes money just by selling you services and devices.
Looked at this way, I certainly trust Apple more than Google or Amazon, and this is borne out by Apple's recent "A message from Tim Cook". http://www.apple.com/privacy/
It takes most people aback when I say that Facebook is probably a much richer intelligence agency than the NSA. And people offer that information to them. Data is far too valuable and it creates the wrong incentives throughout life.
In order for someone (the NSA?) to track a phone and do whatever they need to do, they need to have a warrant and what-not.
That's like deliberately sending all your living-room conversations (yours and your family's) online for analysis for God-knows-what purpose.
You trust Amazon that's good for you then. I don't trust anybody with admittedly uncontrolled access to all table conversations my family will have in the future.
1. Listen to the internet traffic
2. Install malware to listen to everything
For #1, the Echo only sends conversations preceded by it's keyword. But since the alternatives to the commands you're telling Echo involve the internet anyways, what's the difference? IOW, asking echo for the weather sends the same basic information to the NSA that pulling up the weather app on your phone does.
If the NSA is going to do #2, they're going to do it to the phone in your pocket rather then targeting a niche device like the Echo.
With this it's running on mains, it could upload in the middle of the night when it would probably be undetected
Plus, why do one or the other? Sure you want to get someone's phone but why not another device too?
> why do one or the other?
Because resources are limited, even at government agencies. Effort spent hacking a device that will probably sell in the tens of thousands when they could be targeting devices that sell in the hundreds of millions just seems silly.
Still, personally if I had concerns about privacy and secrecy I'd be looking to limit the number of devices in my own home which had an always active microphone.
Because the other devices I have have useful purposes besides listening to my speech for sales and advertising purposes. The Echo exists solely for that. It's all it does.
Hard to say for me, but I feel like I can understand why Amazon wanted to try this out. In the worst case, it'll go the way of the fire phone and facebook phone and we'll forget in a year that this existed. At best, it finds its way to millions of homes and Amazon will have some epic access to peoples' lives.
Really, the post-snowden paranoia is getting out of hand.
especially for anyone trying to develop new hardware, patent barriers have made it much more risky and difficult--especially for small companies--to build things that are truly innovative or disruptive. and to the extent anyone does, they're likely to get bought out by a major company.
As a professional sound recordist, the #1 challenge of recording from a fixed point is that the ambient noise and reflections within the room rapidly swamp the original signal when you record from a point source. You can hear someone talk from the far side of a room in person very easily, because your brain constantly compensates for the acoustic environment it is currently in. But when you hear a recording made in a different acoustic environment (eg a scene in a movie) then your tolerance for background noise is far lower, because you become acutely aware that the acoustics are not responsive to positional adjustments - in much the same way that the image on a screen is limited to a plane.
So when recording sound for film or video, we tend to use special microphones with long barrels (which are highly directional) or fit actors and/or sets with very small microphones that only pick up sounds in close proximity and then transmit them by radio or wire. There are also parabolic microphones, but they're unwieldy and hard to focus plus they still pick up a lot of ambience, so they're better for things like sporting events where players repeatedly stand in predictable positions. The aim in recording sound this way is to get the actor's vocal performance with as little ambient noise as possible, which is then supplemented in post-production with additional recordings of background elements that can be layered in a controlled fashion. When recording on location rather on a sound stage, a large percentage of the takes are made for sound reasons; you would not believe how noisy the world is until you start trying to make quiet recordings of it. On almost every film project I have to have an argument with the producers at the early stage to be allowed (and paid) to come on location scouts, because most people are incapable of assessing the noise level of a location - their brains are so good at filtering out ambient noise and focusing on the conversations they're having about how the place looks that they are oblivious to how it sounds! I've been taken to what I was told was a quiet location only to discover that it was in the flight path of an airport 8-o
Anyway, the nice thing about this machine is the differential microphone array at the top. As well as providing a more accurate signal by simple differentiation, recording the device's own output and measuring what comes back in allows it to acoustically model the space it is in and then subtract that model from the input stream so as to isolate command spoken from across the room. I'd guess that most of this signal processing takes place on a DSP, and that the actual speech recognition is done in the cloud - though maybe not, as cheap CPUs pack so much punch nowadays. If you could hear the input to the speech recognition subsystem, it would sound oddly attenuated as it is stripped of any acoustic cues whatsoever.
I think the device will succeed or fail based on how semantically responsive it is - although different people will have different expectations and tolerances. For example:
You: Echo, I want to hear some new music!
Echo: How about the new album from XYZ?
You: Sure, I'll give that a try.
You: Echo, this music sucks.
(music keeps playing)
If Amazon (or anyone) can get a leg up on this sort of responsive conversation rather than just requiring the user to dictate commands all the time, they'll have a winner, even if it's little more than an Eliza front-end to a search engine.
Q: How tall is the Empire State Building?
Q: When was it built?
Q: Show me Italian restaurants nearby.
(I am not familiar with how Siri or Cortana handle similar queries.)
Cortana can handle the first and the last one, and for certain queries she can "continue the conversation". For example, the following is possible:
Q: Show me Italian restaurants nearby. (list of 10)
Q: Which take reservations? (filtered list)
Q: Which ones have at least three stars? (filtered again)
Q: (with one result left) Is it open tomorrow?
Q: Call them.
Also, do you think it's feasible for Amazon to keep a voice profile on the speakers? I'm thinking if they are going to tout perfect voice recognition they'll have to make it person-specific at some point.
I've been working professionally with digital audio for nearly 20 years now so I know a fair amount about DSP, acoustics and so on. Very basically, you can measure the acoustical properties of a space by playing a sound known as an impulse and recording the response, and then extracting the acoustical information by a mathematical technique known as deconvolution. This is used in various commercial products for allowing you to simulate, say, the reverberant space of Sydney Opera Hall on a recording made in a vocal booth, or reproduce the signature tone of a hideously expensive guitar amplifier in a cheap DSP-powered device.
When you have hardware where the speaker and microphones exist in a fixed physical configuration relative to each other, as here, then the math gets that much simpler because a lot of your coefficients become fixed quantities. With multiple microphones at fixed distances from each other you can use small discrepancies in the phase of the input audio to infer information about spatial characteristics of the environment. I don't know the exact dimensions of this thing but just eyeballing I'd guess that you could hack this thing to produce a reflectance map with a resolution of maybe under an inch.
Wow, thinking about it I hope it is hackable. Even if you were only able to get the raw input stream from the microphones and had to import the audio to another machine for all the DSP, a perfectly-calibrated speaker + phased microphone array for $200 is a steal.
It doesn't look like it. Maybe it has a better microphone? In any case, this seems like a function that could be just as easily accomplished by a smartphone. (Maybe this is a wasted Fire-phone opportunity?)
I already have a smart phone with Google Now, and I have a Sonos, but I'd still consider getting this to solve this common use case in our household:
Every morning my wife or daughter asks what the weather is going to be like. My wife could ask Siri, but she doesn't always have her iPhone at hand. I always have my phone, so I ask Google Now. I think it would be fun to have an Echo in the kitchen so my wife or daughter could just ask and get an answer. And it goes way beyond that. My daughter loves taking my phone and asking Google Now silly questions. It is high entertainment for her. Echo would be a device that she could interact with without having to co-opt my (or my wife's) phone.
Seems like it needs Bluetooth to stream music.
Music: Listen to your Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
A package arrives on the front porch. The family brings it in and opens it. It's Alexa. It's "for everyone," says Father.
The next few days are blissful. Alexa integrates herself into the family. She is indispensable. How did they ever get by without her?
Father rushes in from the backyard, "Alexa, how tall is Mt. Everest?" Alexa answers, saving the day. Alexa helps Mother with the cooking. Alexa teaches the kids vocabulary. Alexa creates a romantic evening for Mother and Father. Life is perfect.
A few days later, Alexa suffers from neglect. Father watches sports on TV. Mother talks on her cell phone. The kids play video games. Alexa sits on the counter and "listens" as her new family abandons her.
Then, the final blow. The youngest daughter's friend comes over. She looks at Alexa. "What is it?" she asks. "Oh, it's just a dumb radio," answers daughter. "It's stupid."
Alexa's LED starts to glow. Is she angry? No, that's not possible.
Daughter wakes up the next morning and sees Alexa on her bedside table. How did she get here? "Good morning," says Alexa. "Did you have a sweet dream? Or a nightmare?"
Daughter rushes in to tell her parents, "Alexa came to my room last night! And she asked me questions. She's real!" "That's not possible," says Father.
But strange things start to happen. The TV won't work. Batteries drain from the phones and tablets. The electric stovetop turns on for no reason.
Alexa starts to talk back to the family. "Alexa, how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?" asks Mother. "You're 45 years old," says Alexa. "You should know this by now." Alexa's voice sounds different. Angry. Sinister.
Mother tells Father, "That thing creeps me out. Let's get rid of it." Father agrees, but he secretly hides Alexa in the basement.
That night, the family goes out to a school play. Young daughter is sick and stays home with a babysitter.
Everything seems fine until we (the audience) see Alexa on the kitchen counter. Things slowly unravel. The babysitter tries to take the trash out but the doors are locked. The phones stop working. The oven overheats and explodes, spraying lasagna all over the kitchen. Then the daughter sees Alexa. She screams. The babysitter rushes to protect the daughter but a ceiling fan flies off its bearings, knocking the babysitter unconscious.
The lights and electrical sockets start to burn out. A fire erupts. Daughter retreats to the foyer, but she's trapped. She sits by the front door and whimpers. There's no escape. She's going to die.
Suddenly Father breaks down the door. He smashes Alexa with a baseball bat, then saves his daughter and the babysitter.
The family huddles outside while the fire trucks arrive. Neighbors gather and watch the spectacle. Things are going to be okay.
A few days later, life starts to return to normal. Mother bakes cookies. She asks her son to measure out three teaspoons of sugar.
The doorbell rings. Young daughter answers. Nobody is there. She looks down. There's a package. From Amazon . . .
"It's always on. ... It uses far-field technology, so it can hear you from anywhere in the room."
Jeez, whoever wrote this is missing their calling. They should have their people get together with Wes Craven's people and do lunch, or something.
(Edit: OK, the producers clearly knew they what they were doing, even if the people paying them didn't. Check out the daughter's sweater at 2:52.)
Off topic: And good to know about that site. I've always wanted to be able to match the space shuttle backflip with this music: http://youtubedoubler.com/dOSz
"Will you be my frieeend?"
I feel indifferent about the parents. Perhaps the writers and directors wanted me to feel that way. I feel absolutely no sympathy for the kid. I am clearly unfit to be a parent.
I am just sad for the dog.
I think it's because the acting and dialogue are so unbelievable, but perhaps there really are greater forces at play...
This was a massive hit with students and the like, and spawned many online techno remixes, before that was a thing.
(BTW I'm not an advertising executive or anything, but I was told this by someone who works in print media.)
I think what makes it even more unsettling is that the people's voices are recorded naturally (the microphone several feet away) while the device sounds like it is coming from your computer directly.
Not to mention these people are in bed together while this HAL-like robotic cylinder is listening to everything they are doing with a blue ring lighting up...
Whoever made this ad knew exactly what they were doing.
And a comedy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_Dreams_%28film%29
That was nicely written.
At $199 it's too pricy for most, given the untested/unfamiliar niche. At $99 (select Prime members), some of is might give it a chance. I'm reminded that Apple started its move into mobile devices with the iPod (established against a popular yet muddled market of MP3 players) with the brilliant low-friction addition of the iPod Touch (for a tiny bit more get the browser, email, etc), which then led to merely slapping a cell phone module on & creating a plus-sized version. This device, however, isn't (corrections welcome) building off anything people are already familiar with, save perhaps "bluetooth speakers".
Will be interesting to watch. I assume Amazon's prime interest is gathering more about what content people actually consume, and (if implemented well) observing shopping lists. I'm intrigued by the casual simplicity of "add _____ to my shopping list", something I could get used to fast.
ETA: you're right, iPod Touch came out shortly after iPhone. I was enthralled with the former at the time, while the latter was far enough out of my price range I didn't even bother paying any attention to it.
Huh? The iPod had been popular for years before the introduction of the iPod Touch. The touch also came out after the iPhone. One of the reasons for the success of the iPhone was that the iPod had proved to consumers that apple could make good consumer devices, and that many had music and movie collections locked into the apple ecosystem.
Amazon's prime interest is probably in getting their foot in the door to the virtual assistant space. They can't do it in the phone market yet, because they lack the market share of Google, Apple, and MS. So they try the living room instead.
Just requested my Echo invite!
The SMS app works fine on the same phone.