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“Alexa, Are You Listening?”

Amazon Echo patiently awaits the user's next command.  Is convenience worth the potential invasion of privacy?  Photo Credit:  Amazon.com

Amazon Echo patiently awaits the user's next command. Is convenience worth the potential invasion of privacy? Photo Credit: Amazon.com

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Amazon’s newest product has certainly created fame for itself- for the good and the bad. Many owners will say that the Amazon Echo has been a great “helper” around the house; giving assistance in areas such as playing music, setting a timer, or quenching  knowledge with immediate answers to nearly all questions at hand. One skill that is trying to become more advertised to owners to try is ordering an Uber to come right to your driveway. The product is activated by a keyword and can perform over 3,000 tasks that you command. Once the Amazon Echo picks up on the name “Alexa”, it will awaken and prepare for orders to follow. Echo owners were followed up with, and 85% responded back to Amazon expressing great satisfaction for the product’s skills and how quickly Alexa responds to commands.

But has your Amazon Echo really been asleep this whole time?

When you are not directly addressing Alexa, then does that really mean that she hears nothing? This has been a proposed argument by some, seeking to uncover whether Amazon Echos’ are invading privacy of families. When you’re not asking Alexa to execute a task, then chances are you don’t want her listening in. Safety, privacy, and professionalism are all concerns tied into why people want to ensure that Alexa is only listening when commanded to. How can we be sure? People have dove into this topic, searching for the truth from Amazon themselves. Amazon has shared that the Amazon Echos’ do indeed record things that you say when they hear your voice, claiming that these voice recordings are so that your personal Alexa becomes familiar with your family members voices. The point of the recordings are to train the voice activated machine into being more comfortable with detecting the voices that she is meant to. Questions have been raised to Amazon online, and to paraphrase findings from (foxnews.com), people are asking what Amazon plans to do with the voice recordings, and if there’s a chance that their voices could be hacked from these recordings, or if law enforcement can access the sound files and use them for a cruel plan. Although some accusations seem harsh, they are still relevant and realistic, and are understandably important matters to address.

One particular case that proved that Amazon Echo is constant listening could be helpful, is a murder case in Arkansas in 2015. This case has been opened up for investigation since 2015, as the police have been working to use every piece of evidence to say whether or not James Bates would be charged with homicide, after the body of Victor Collins was found in his backyard. Police found it hard to piece their gathered evidence together, and were not sure if they had enough to charge Bates with guilty of murder. They realized that Bates did have an Amazon Echo in his house, which sparked investigators minds immediately. After waiting for their warrant to be accepted, Police were able to get the audio files from Amazon, and use them to further piece-together their case. Whether any specifics from the audio was beneficial to the murder case, “The Washington Post” refrained from including it. Focusing on whether the Amazon Echo is beneficial and helpful, this situation would be one to assume so.

It is hard to say with facts if the Echo does more invading than helping, because like every product, there has been instances of both. Whether it is an invasion of property or not, becomes simply an opinion of whomever you’re asking. In the Cape Henry community, Kendall Hathaway thinks that despite all of the controversy on it, she thinks that “it is a cool product, and my sister has one at her house. Whenever I am there, I am always thinking of new things to ask it to do. My experience with it has been harmless.” All of the Cape Henry students that were asked, had similar responses to Kendall, supporting the product. George Selamaj was thrown off guard when he was asked to guess how many have been sold as of now. Keeping in mind, they are two years old. He answered with “5 million”, when the answer is 11 million, selling nine times as many echos this holiday than any other year. George was surprised with how many were in circulation and by how much they have grown in popularity, as I shared statistics with him.

With an all time high of sales this holiday of 2017, this product, despite the accusations and controversial discussion on it, has shown much popularity and the sales haven’t slowed down one bit!

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