I have the best deal at Christmas. I must buy gifts for just one person: my lovely wife. As long as I do that well, everything goes smoothly.
She handles the gifts for everyone else, including my extended family. But we always get into trouble when it comes down to gifts for me. My wife buys me gifts that I would love to return. It’s not because they aren’t nice things; I just don’t really want anything.
Luckily, this year, there’s one thing we both agree will not enter our home.
We have vowed never to have a smart speaker.
You know what I’m talking about? The Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple whatever. Those darn little devices can be very handy when you want to know something.
What’s the weather like?
Is there traffic on my route to work?
Order a new box of tissues.
Who performed the song “No Parking on the Dance Floor?” (It was the band, Midnight Star.)
These are important questions that everyone must know the answers to, and those darn little speakers make it really easy to find them.
But they come with an insidious character flaw.
They listen to, and record, everything.
I mean, everything.
Recently, a New Hampshire judge demanded Amazon turn over two days’ worth of Echo Dot recordings in a home where a double murder had occurred. The judge wants to know if the recordings on the device hold any clues as to what had happened.
It’s really nifty that such information might be available, and also scares the snot out of me.
Today, it’s a judge investigating a murder.
Tomorrow, what could it be?
Perhaps someone wants to know your political leanings, or maybe they want to know your views on social changes, or maybe they just want to know the combination to your phone or something else that you might say out loud.
You might point out that in the first instance in New Hampshire, we’re talking about a crime, whereas the other information doesn’t involve illegal activity. True, but would you want it posted on the internet?
No matter what it is, when it happens in the confines of your home, you have an expectation of privacy. Or perhaps, you did until you invited these pesky little things into your house.
We’re inviting Big Brother technology into our homes for our convenience and then pretending we control the data.
News Flash: we don’t.
The amount of information we’re putting out there is astounding.
Think of it! Every single thing you say in your home is recorded by a company whose sole purpose is to sell you stuff. And that’s just the legal use of the data.
What about the illegal use?
Remember, these are companies that can’t keep your payment information secret, as we learn every time there’s a new breach. What happens when your everyday conversation data is leaked or otherwise taken by bad actors?
Suddenly, they have the ability to look through everything you say in your home in search of something useful.
And don’t get me started on home security systems that are easily hacked so that others can stream live video from your home!
The idea of private data remaining, you know, private, is suddenly coming into vogue. We see it as the shares of Facebook take a face plant on such concerns, and the recent legislative changes in Europe.
But it’s an uphill battle, because we’re so addicted to convenience and the idea of getting things for “free.”
Think of the things that are already listening to our lives. We have our cars, our phones, our smart speakers, our televisions, and voice-controlled remote controls.
All of these devices are meant to provide us with a service that we find engaging and indispensable. But they come with a cost. We give up the privacy of all of the data that we transmit through such devices. That seems pretty creepy.
So, as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing, with Black Friday online sales up more than 20% and Cyber Monday looking pretty good, I can be sure of what I won’t get this Christmas.
Call me old-fashioned, or even paranoid. Maybe I’ll ask for something specific, like a watch. But I’ll have to be specific so that I don’t end up with a smart watch, which is essentially a voice recorder on your wrist.
Maybe I’ll get one that has to be wound, if they still exist.
If that doesn’t pan out, there’s always socks.