IS ALEXA OUR MODERN DAY ASSISTANT OR A PRIVACY BREACH?
Recently the world was enlightened a bit more about data. The Social Dilemma & The Great Hack, both on Netflix, disclose a bit more as to how the process of accumulating our data, then reselling it to the highest bidder, can lead us to concentrated advertising, or down a dark hole of information created to individualize, to polarize, to extricate our decisions and opinions.
The most popular data-gathering device is Amazon’s infamous Alexa. Marketed as a tool for your family, Alexa can answer our questions in seconds. What’s the weather going to be? Alexa knows. When did such-and-such occur? Alexa can answer immediately. “She” even tells jokes! We like her personality, and how she makes us feel like we’re on the future's cutting edge. Her software is in-tune, and her sleek design feels smart, chic, and adds a bit of sexy mystery to our everyday. Overall, Alexa seems to add to our lives.
But Alexa has another purpose. She’s listening to us. She’s gathering exact information about our every moves. When do we wake up? What brands do we mention? What ticks us off or makes us laugh? This information is then sold to advertisers and campaign groups. It allows marketers and strategists to pinpoint their exact audience. This can be viewed as helpful to most consumers. Rather than sifting through ad after ad about items we don’t prefer, what we want flashes before our eyes online moments after we mentioned it. Often, this saves us time or even reminds us of consumer products we’ve been meaning to purchase.
Still, the darker side is the data can be sold to more malicious manipulators. If not before, we have witnessed this past election season how a tad-conservative or smidge-liberal person can be fed extreme and untrue information, polarizing their opinion to the far-right or far-left. What used to be advertising and media made for all, consumed, digested, deliberated, and discussed together to make upright all-encompassed decisions, is now a tunnel of not-so-true information specifically made for you. We get our news through algorithm created mines made specifically for persuasion. Imagine the famous 1960 TV debate of Kennedy-Nixon and how the world reacted to JFK’s visual charm versus Nixon’s sweat and visual nerves. If that were to happen with today’s social media, Alex would feed your data to campaign managers that then would only show you images of JFK or Nixon. You wouldn’t even be able to compare, contrast, digest both on an even playing field. And so, unlike in the past, we aren’t consuming all real news, or even the same news. One might ask, where is the counterpoint? Where is the serendipity? Ultimately, does this make us all into algorithm-consuming ‘bots without free will to make educated decisions?
On a personal level, a few Christmases ago I was given an Alexa. Without even opening the box, I thanked the giver and placed it to the side. Hours later, still boxed, I handed it to my brother. I love technology. I see a lot of good in Alexa. But this technology is taking my data and using it to box in my news, my purchases, my life. It’s like being told to walk down a unique street with only specific billboards timed and flashed before me in order to feed me exact information to make precise, paid for, decisions. I love a joke day, and whether or not I should grab my coat, but I would rather have freedom of information so I can make my own choices.
Alexa isn’t the culprit. She’s an example of an IOT device that can hinder curiosity and original organic opinions. Still, it begs the question, is Alexa truly a modern-day assistant? Or simply the biggest gimmick played on humanity to steal our privacy? Luckily, it’s not too late. If we’re informed of IOT’s hindrances, we can then make knowledgeable decisions about whether or not we want IOT in our lives. And the good news? It’s up to each one of us to decide for ourselves.