By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that Alexa has been on a dollhouse shopping spree, and is also helping to solve a murder. Clearly, Alexa cannot be trusted and that’s why she has only limited trigger words, including options such as “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “computer,” and “Echo.” When you speak those words, or other “wake words” that you program yourself, Alexa starts to listen…and record.
Recordings are becoming a normal, but often unexpected, part of our daily routines. Urban legend has it that some smart televisions record your conversations. The same goes for smartphones; supposedly, some of your mobile apps can record every word that falls from your lips. Also questionable. Security cameras? Obviously.
The Nest camera only records and stores footage if you subscribe to an additional service, called Nest Aware. Absent this subscription, the only video clips available are those triggered by sound or motion, and those clips are kept for only three hours. If a customer is interested in storing footage, by subscribing to Nest Aware, clips can be stored for ten or thirty days in the cloud; important clips can even be downloaded. What is less obvious in the terms and conditions, though, is that when switching from free use to the subscription service, the level of monitoring also changes. What was previously triggered by sound or motion is now a continuous recording, which means that thirty days’ worth of conversations and activity are stored in the cloud, securely, but remotely. For some customers, the idea that thirty days of your home life are in the cloud might be an unpleasant surprise, and it could raise real concerns about the privacy you’re actually enjoying.
As a society, it’s safe to say that many of us have willingly given up our privacy for convenience and functionality but how much we’re willing to sacrifice may be an open question. At a minimum, we should be making conscious decisions about whether our devices are storing or streaming.