There is a battle raging in technology between industry giants who want to own your heart, your mind, and your home. Amazon’s Echo and Alexa get the most coverage, Google’s Assistant is the smartest of the talking intelligent personal assistants, and Apple’s Siri is the one that gets used most frequently.
Which would you trust to guard your home?
Amazon just announced a new feature called Alexa Guard:
Guard is an Alexa feature that helps you keep your home safe. When you set Guard to Away mode, if an Echo device detects the sound of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or glass breaking, Alexa can send you Smart Alerts, via notifications to your phone.
I love that idea. Almost.
The new feature means Alexa stays in always on, always listening mode, and when it hears specific sounds– alarms, broken glass, perhaps screaming– you get a notice.
If you have a Ring, ADT Pulse, or ADT Control security system, Alexa can also arm your system when you set Guard to Away mode, and you can opt to forward Smart Alerts to your security provider. And if you have connected smart lights, Alexa can automatically turn them on and off when Guard is in Away mode to make it look like someone is home.
These are great ideas, right? So, what’s the problem?
This is a matter of trust and it has come to my attention that Amazon, Google, Facebook, et al, cannot be trusted because their business models require them to gather personal information from users and customers, then use that information in online advertising campaigns to manipulate our behavior.
Does giving Amazon free reign to listen to our homes constitute a violation of privacy?
Murder convictions usually require motive, means, and opportunity, so one can argue that Alexa Guard is out to murder Echo users. Alright, maybe murder is too strong. But the motive is obvious, the means is obvious, and because we allow it, the opportunity is there for Alexa to listen in on anything going on inside our homes.
Ostensibly, that mean security, but you know as well as I that not everyone will turn off Alexa Guard once they return home, so what does Amazon do with all that audio information it collects?
Now, imagine that Apple is working on a similar function for Siri on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and not just to listen for sounds of smoke alarms, or breaking glass. Which would you trust to listen?
Alexa? Google Assistant? Or, Apple’s Siri?
Backup to motive, means, and opportunity. The motive is obvious. Amazon and Google collect data that is then used to manipulate users and customers, so I’m leery of any feature which promises good from a company that has such a vested interest in gathering information about me and my household.
For now, I trust Siri and Apple more than I trust Amazon or Google or Facebook.