Without a doubt, the digital age has brought innumerable advantages to modern life. More than ever before, individuals have access to a wealth of information on the internet – information that, not so long ago, could only be acquired through extensive research. Today, with the dawn of voice-activated services such as Amazon’s “Alexa”, learning anything has never been easier.
But could there be unforeseen downsides to such devices? Could it be that the desire for progress has begun to trump an individual’s right to privacy?
Though Alexa is a helpful device that has made its way into millions of American homes for a reason, some are still unaware of the true extent of its capabilities.
Unbeknownst to many users, Alexa is not only able to answer a multitude of questions, it is also programmed to record commands after hearing a “wake word”. Because of such recordings, Amazon has been ordered on several occasions to release this potential evidence to be used in crimes wherein the suspect owned an Echo device.
Though it is convenient that Amazon is able to shed light on criminal acts through Alexa, the latter’s widespread use and its ability to record poses serious questions regarding the rights of individuals, particularly within their own homes.
Such recordings are not only a violation of the right to privacy, but they also leave the door wide open for misuse and misunderstanding. For instance, if a recording in which individuals interacting with Alexa were joking about committing a crime was used as evidence of their guilt in court, it could lead to serious consequences for the individuals in question. It is likely that such a recording could be misunderstood or taken completely out of context, and the private joke, no matter how inappropriate it might have been, could escalate and result in unjust criminal records for those involved.
But the concerns regarding Alexa do not end there.
Last year, an Amazon user requested his private information from the company and received a file with what he presumed was the information he had requested. Instead, he was shocked to discover that Amazon had mistakenly sent him the interactions that another customer had had with an Alexa device — interactions that were supposed to be completely private. The data included details regarding another customer’s work, the names of his friends, his public transportation habits, and even his musical preferences. Though Amazon responded to the incident by claiming it was “an isolated case”, the fact remains that, on numerous occasions already, Alexa devices have failed to safeguard the privacy of its users.
Thus, it seems that the dawn of technological advancements has created a difficult balancing act between safeguarding the relative privacy of the past and integrating the advances of the 21st century while harnessing this powerful tool to meet the demands of a new, fast-paced world.
Since the rights of individuals should always be considered of greater importance than the convenience of storing or recording private interactions for later use, every effort should be made to ensure that technological advancements are not paid for with the privacy of unsuspecting humankind.