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Do You Have a Smart Speaker? Why?

Amazon Echo

This topic seems like a logical one after my experience with computer cyberattacks. A smart speaker is one that allows you to ask a question, play a certain type of music, ask about the weather, or order a product without the effort involved in getting out of your chair. Talk to a smart speaker and it handles your needs. Amazon has its Dot and Echo while Google sells Home. Other companies offer similar products, either as a standalone product or hooked to a home security system.

A smart speaker is usually connected to your home wireless network. It has a speaker and a microphone. A "trigger" word, like the default, Alexa, for the Echo, causes the microphone to activate. After receiving a command, question, or other accepted action, that audio clip is sent to a server that executes your command, all in the blink of an eye. 

Third party apps can be programmed to turn on and off lights in your home, set your thermostat, lock or unlock doors, change the settings on your refrigerator, even order groceries or have a meal delivered. In short, a smart speaker has the potential to be  a 24 hour a day servant, fulfilling your desires with little effort on your part.

I will skip discussing the obvious question, "How lazy are we?" Anything a smartspeaker can do can be done by a smart phone, a computer, a tablet, or getting out of the chair and flipping a switch. Ordering something online becomes ridiculously easy, something Amazon Prime already makes much too convenient for my budget.

More to the point, how dangerous is this toy/tool? If a simple word turns on the microphone and sends whatever you say to some server in some cloud somewhere, what are the risks of cyberattack, having personal data compromised, or finding a hacker ordering a full set of encyclopedias without your knowledge? Are you sure whatever you are talking about in the room with the device isn't being recorded?

In theory the voice clip you send after speaking is encrypted, but we know how well that doesn't work today. Besides, your audio files are all stored until you go through several steps to delete them. I am sure marketers would love to know everything you ask about or want to know. Advertising targeted to interests would quickly follow. 

Are we trading privacy for convenience? Well, no news here, that train left the station years ago. Google, Amazon, and every place you visit online already knows more about some of your habits than your mother or spouse. When you visit a web site your computer collects cookies and the merchant collects patterns. Why do you think after visiting a site that offers cruises do you think ads for Mediterranean trips pop up on your next Google search or looking at Facebook? 

I like new technology but I don't own a smart speaker, yet. So my questions to you are rather basic:

1) Do you own a smart speaker? Do you like it, use it often?

2) If you don't own one, are you considering it? Does the convenience appeal to you?

3) How do you feel about the privacy issue? Is there a risk? Are you willing to accept it?

Google Home

Amazon just finished their huge Prime Day deals sale. I noticed the Echo was cut to half price. I will admit I was tempted, but decided to wait for your feedback.


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