It’s a question we here at Common Sense Conspiracy get a lot these days. All of these cool AI-driven devices are becoming popular, and naturally, people start to wonder just what else they might be up to.
Devices that include Amazon’s Alexa are ultra-convenient because all you have to do is just say her name (or the name you assign to her) out loud, and then she is ready to fulfill your every command. The obvious problem there is that this must mean that Alexa is listening all of the time, or this kind of functionality would not be possible. So, is Alexa spying on you in her downtime? Collecting data to sell you more Amazon products? Worse, sending information to the government? Let’s have a look at the scenarios.
What’s In It For Alexa?
For starters, let’s look at this conspiracy theory from the way we approach a lot of these. What’s in it for Alexa and Amazon to listen in to what is going on at your house 24/7?
Well, that’s an easy one. Remember, the Internet and companies like Amazon revolve around advertising and trying to figure out what you want to buy before you even know what you want to buy. Your conversations open up this portal for them. While Amazon will try to tell you that Alexa is only listening for the keyword that activates her and that’s all, it’s mighty hard to believe that a company that thrives on mining the Internet to find out what you are looking for would take a pass on that treasure trove of information.
While the CSC certainly cannot prove this is the case, it is our opinion that Amazon probably at least uses Alexa’s listening capabilities to at least capture keywords for future advertising. There are plenty of stories of people getting emails or seeing Google ads for items that they had never actually searched for, but only mentioned to their spouse in their homes. This would be a textbook example of how Alexa could benefit Amazon’s quest to sell you more stuff all the time.
But Isn’t There Privacy Laws About Stuff Like This?
Sure, there are laws, but when you first get your pretty little Echo or whatever device you have in your home that uses Alexa, you probably breeze through a huge Terms and Conditions document where you agree to all sorts of things before you ever use the device the first time. No one reads these things, right? No one that uses the device, but the lawyers for Amazon… you can bet they know that terms and conditions document backwards and forwards. That is why when something comes up they haven’t thought about yet, they quickly make an addendum and you have to agree to the terms again.
Now, we’re not advocating that you read over the terms and conditions on all this stuff because you would literally spend your entire life reading terms and conditions. However, it doesn’t take a hardcore lawyer to know that you are probably giving up some rights and privacy by agreeing to those terms.
What’s In It For the Government?
Well, this is an easy one, isn’t it? Is the government using Alexa to listen in on you? Tracking terrorists? Tracking the next mass shooter?
Let’s start with number one here. They certainly would love to use Alexa’s listening app. There’s no question this would be a great asset to the government in a hundred different ways. However, a lot of times we see a clash between private companies and the government on things like this. Remember Apple’s much-publicized dispute with the FBI about cracking into phones?
Amazon probably isn’t real enthusiastic about having to work with the government all the time handing over information. However, the way our legal system works, if the government ever has a good enough reason, they could require Amazon to hand over that information. If they have access to it, a judge could force them to give it to the government.
There are already multiple cases going on in the United States where data from Alexa is being sought in criminal proceedings. It is still being fought out in the court system, but at the end of the day, sooner or later it’s going to come to a head.
The only way Amazon could avoid being involved in cases like this is to simply not allow Alexa to listen. This is the only way to be 100% safe.
So What Are You Telling Me Here?
Yes, we know. We just gave some answers that went around in a circle. It’s true. No one on the outside can be 100% certain whether Alexa is really listening to more than she should. We have outlined the reasons here that it would be beneficial to Amazon if she did, and we have outlined the reasons why it would not be beneficial.
The bottom line is that if you are paranoid about this, you have all the power in your hands. Get those devices out of your home. Remember though that they have implanted themselves in our day to day life so well that your life is going to be difficult. Every smartphone has some Alexa-like entity. Smart TVs have functionality like this built into the units. If you stream anything, whatever device you use probably has something like this as well. These days, even your toaster oven might be listening in on your conversations.
You can eliminate the chance of them listening, but you are going to put up with doing away with a lot of modern conveniences in the meantime. Whether it’s worth it or not is completely up to you.