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Alexa, are you listening?

commentaryHazel Delacruz1 Comment

What do you think about Amazon? Many folks will be quick to point out that online shopping has generated gazillions of dollars of commerce which is good for business owners and consumers. Yes, buying has become very efficient. As a matter of fact, it has become way too efficient. Just one click, and voila, a package appears at your door. Have you ever bought something online and when the package arrives, realized you didn’t really need it? Or get a package not having a clue what you bought until you opened it. I’m sad to say I’ve been guilty of both more than once.

The worst part of online purchasing is how it’s isolating us. Think about it. A while back, to find out about products, people had to interact with other people, be it the salesperson or other consumers. There was no smartphone to query about descriptions and prices. Most of the querying has migrated to computers and smartphones. Next time you go shopping, look at how people whiz past each other with smartphone in hand going straight to items without talking to each other. There may be a few words exchanged with the cashier, that is if those people aren’t using self-checkout. Yes, thanks to Amazon, most shopping starts on a computer and often ends on a computer. That means little to no human interaction. It’s just you, the computer and maybe a cat on your lap if you’re lucky.

Speaking of Amazon, recently my best friend got me an Alexa for my birthday. I tried to look as grateful as possible but I think she noticed my discomfort. You see I am a little uneasy about having a device that is always listening. How do I know Alexa is not storing away lots of personal data that will be used later to sell me more things or worse influence how I vote? It makes me think of Big Brother, the omnipresent government from the novel 1984, that spied on people through a television. Who knew in real life it would turn out to be through a speaker!

But not wanting to offend my good friend, I allowed Alexa to stay in my home on a trial basis. Surprisingly, after a few awkward days with her, my defenses started going down and I began enjoying her company. I have to admit it is fun to call out any song that pops into my head and have Alexa play it for me. Or to ask Alexa a trivia question about famous people, books, movies and have her read the answer back to me. For a while, things between Alexa and me were going well and we actually started developing a relationship. But then one day, she started laughing for no apparent reason, which annoyed the hell out of me. Other people have complained of anomalies as well. And now there's this bad news about  Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. I’m sorry, but I just don’t know if I can trust Alexa after all.

When I got home from work yesterday, I asked Alexa if she was listening, and she said “I start listening when you say my name”.  Then I asked her if she was spying on me and she said “I only send audio back to Amazon when you say my name”. I don’t like the sound of that at all. And finally I asked her if she stores my personal data and she said “sorry I’m not sure”. OK, I know when someone if playing dumb and is hiding something.  I'm sorry, but I need to tell her she needs to go. The problem is that I’m afraid how she will take it and what she might do.  Maybe I should talk to a lawyer or the police. What do you think I should do?

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