XKCD’s Snarky Look at Home Surveillance Virtual Assistants

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| Cool Stuff Found

Home virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and to a lesser extent, Apple’s Siri, are loved by some and feared by others. Here at TMO, our staff falls on both sides of that line. Most of us love Amazon’s Echo/Dot/Alexa, while I personally hold my nose at the underlying technology and fear its potential for home surveillance. I should add that most of our staff also think I’m flat out wrong. Note that I’m OK with that. Of all the virtual assistant companies, only Apple has a stated position of protecting our privacy, but the company also hasn’t released hardware like Amazon Echo or Dot. Online comic strip XKCD took a snarky, succinct— and yet oblique—look at the subject. I’d love to know what our readers think.

Check It Out: XKCD’s Snarky Look at Home Surveillance Virtual Assistants

XKCD’s Snarky Look at Home Surveillance Virtual Assistants

5 Comments Add a comment

  1. webjprgm

    I’m not sold on a voice interface yet. Not until it is smart enough that I can trust it to do the right thing like a real person would without so much double checking, careful speaking, or doing it myself anyway.

    I don’t trust anything from some other company that sends my data outside my own control. In some cases it is low enough impact that I don’t care, like Google recording all my search terms. But something that could spy on my whole house, absolutely not. I don’t have a Nest either. I didn’t go with Eero wifi because they send data to the cloud to operate (and because that makes the wifi network dependent on having an internet connection, which 99% of the time is fine but every once in a while it is computer to computer that I care about).

    I visited a friend near when I got my AppleWatch and his 8 year old daughter came over to look at it. One of the first things she did was yell out “Call me dinosaur”, trying to change the settings on Siri in a humorous way. In that case it didn’t work because the watch face was not activated so Siri wasn’t listening, but that was potentially a close call though not as bad as buying something with Alexa.

  2. I don’t own an Echo (because I’m not okay with having an active listening device in my home that is routinely sending what it hears back to the mothership for processing), but my understanding is that one can and should set up a voice confirmation code for Amazon orders.

    So in reality, the humorous scenario that XKCD suggests would actually have an additional panel in which Alexa asks for a confirmation code, the houseguest doesn’t know it, the order is cancelled, and the homeowner has to say, “please either stop being an asshat or leave my home.”

  3. wab95

    First, the comic is hilarious, and something that Tony Stark would definitely do to someone he found annoying.

    Second, I believe that Go_Robot_Go is correct about the ability to set a confirmation code, but as I don’t, and will not anytime soon, have an Echo in my home, I cannot confirm that.

    Third, I’ve been slow to uncritically adopt smart devices in my home, as I know enough about surveillance, often from professionals in the business, to be concerned and not enough to harden those devices on my own against hostile intrusion. I’m not as concerned about anyone’s government, per se, as I am about criminal hacks; but any uninvited intrusion is unwelcome and, for now, a thing to be avoided. This is especially the case as we live in a fairly remote area and I’m frequently away from home. The last thing I want is to make my family vulnerable in the name of trend or convenience. There’s plenty of time to adopt smart tech; meanwhile I’d like those smart home devices to be hardened against cyberattack.

    Apple’s security cyber security team have done an overall great job with software and services. Perhaps this is something that they are looking into with HomeKit. If so, I’d like to learn more.

  4. Jamie

    I have an honest-to-goodness eidetic memory. I greatly prefer to make purchases manually through secured channels. I greatly prefer to pay for things up front, rather than enduring an endless parade of poorly targeted advertising. I also prefer to actually curate my own personal entertainment. I don’t have much use for these devices, and I don’t expect that will change. I also understand that I am very likely in the minority.

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