“Thermostats, Locks and Lights: Tools of Domestic Abuse”
Nellie Bowles, The New York Times, June 23, 2018
There are also great possibilities here for landlords and managers of residential-care facilities to drive out tenants/residents who complain too much or fall behind in the rent.
Abusers — using apps on their smartphones, which are connected to the internet-enabled devices — would remotely control everyday objects in the home, sometimes to watch and listen, other times to scare or show power. Even after a partner had left the home, the devices often stayed and continued to be used to intimidate and confuse.
For victims and emergency responders, the experiences were often aggravated by a lack of knowledge about how smart technology works, how much power the other person has over the devices, how to legally deal with the behavior and how to make it stop. …
Those at help lines said more people were calling in the last 12 months about losing control of Wi-Fi-enabled doors, speakers, thermostats, lights and cameras. Lawyers also said they were wrangling with how to add language to restraining orders to cover smart home technology. …
Legal recourse may be limited. Abusers have learned to use smart home technology to further their power and control in ways that often fall outside existing criminal laws.
Amazon is now claiming that the mishap reported here, in which an Echo recorded a random chunk of household conversation and e-mailed it to a third party, resulted from a cascade of four misinterpretations of elements of the conversation: Echo misheard something as a wake word, something else as a "send message" request, something else again as the recipient's name, and yet another thing as a confirmation.
“Amazon Explains How Alexa Recorded a Private Conversation and Sent It to Another User”
Tom Warren, The Verge, May 24, 2018
Each Echo maintains a log of its operations, and one tech-savvy user decided to look through this log to find out how often the device wakes itself up “accidentally.” The answer turns out to be “several times a day, for no obvious reason.”
“Yes, Alexa Is Recording Mundane Details of Your Life, and It's Creepy as Hell”
Rachel Metz, MIT Technology Review, May 25, 2018
I started wondering: what is it picking up on at my house when we're not talking to it directly?
So I checked my Alexa history (you can do that through the “settings” portion of the Amazon Alexa smartphone app) to see what kinds of things it recorded without my knowledge.
That's when the hairs on the back of my neck started to stand up. …
It's heard me complain to my dad about something work-related, chide my toddler about eating dinner, and talk to my husband — the kinds of normal, everyday things you say at home when you think no one else is listening. …
I invited Alexa into our living room to make it easier to listen to Pandora and occasionally check the weather, not to keep a log of intimate family details or record my kid saying “Mommy, we going car” and forward it to Amazon's cloud storage.
My guess is that the sampling is not really accidental, but reflects Amazon's desire to collect additional data about its customers. I suppose that the primary goal is to improve the Echo's voice recognition by getting a large enough data set for the machine-learning techniques to work a little more reliably. On the other hand, Amazon has many other possible uses for such a collection. The fact that the Echo sometimes mishears something as its wake word provides a convenient cover story.
An Amazon Echo “accidentally” recorded a couple's private conversation in their home and e-mailed the recording to one of the husband's employees. Amazon investigated and found an explanation that supposedly satisfied the company engineers, but did not divulge that explanation either to the couple or to the general public, instead asserting that they had “determined this to be an extremely rare occurrence” and that “Amazon takes privacy very seriously.”
“Woman Says Her Amazon Device Recorded Private Conversation, Sent It Out to Random Contact”
Gary Horcher, KIRO-TV, May 24, 2018
Dental-insurance companies are big fans of network-connected toothbrushes and will send them out as freebies — repeatedly and insistently.
“Our Dental Insurance Sent Us ‘Free’ Internet-Connected Toothbrushes. And This Is What Happened Next”
Wolf Richter, Wolf Street, April 14, 2018
The authors' family eventually figured out that you can use the toothbrush and even switch on the electricity so that the brush head vibrates automatically without activating the network connection, if you're careful to switch off Bluetooth in your phone before brushing your teeth. Now, however, they worry about the next step in the process:
We're expecting a series of emails that start out gently, and every two weeks or so get increasingly emphatic, telling us that we better start setting up the Internet connection to our toothbrushes and start sending our data to the cloud.
What's next? The day when we cannot get dental insurance without internet-connected toothbrushes. …
For now, our household is still able to at least partially block this intrusion. But there will be a day when we will be forced to surrender our data to get health insurance, drive a car, or have a refrigerator and a thermostat in the house. This is where this is going. Why? Because data is where the money is. And because many consumers are embracing it.
“Amazon Won't Say If It Hands Your Echo Data to the Government”
Zack Whittaker, Zero Day, January 16, 2018
Amazon has been downright deceptive in how it presents the data, obfuscating the figures in its short, but contextless, twice-yearly reports. Not only does Amazon offer the barest minimum of information possible, the company has — and continues — to deliberately mislead its customers by actively refusing to clarify how many customers, and which customers, are affected by the data demands it receives.
Even purchasers of the Amazon Echo and its rivals have trouble finding a use for their new gizmo. Amazon equips the Echo with more than thirty thousand “skills.” Only about one Echo user in five has ever run even one of those add-on applications.
“Alexa, We're Still Trying to Figure Out What to Do with You”
Daisuke Wakabayashi and Nick Wingfield, The New York Times, January 15, 2018
For some reason, the story doesn't mention the most important application of these devices: surveillance.