July 25, 2017

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.


55 comments:

  1. This doesn't appeal to me in the least. Big Brother is already watching and has been for awhile, why add more?

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  2. No interest on my part. Ordering from the internet is already pretty easy and I don't need something with the potential to be hacked in some way.

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    1. Ordering from the Internet is much too easy. The delay between desire and fulfillment is measured in seconds, not hours or days.

      Here is an example: sitting in a Walmart parking lot, ordering a product on Amazon because Walmart was out of it for one day. What I ordered will arrive one day later than the Walmart product, but the feeling of empowerment by clicking those few buttons on the phone = priceless.

      Dumb.

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  3. Our son bought us an Echo for Christmas. It made strange noses in the middle of the night. Then I realized it listened to us, 24/7. It was rather ominous,sitting there on the counter. The speakers are crummy, as far as listening to music,too.Gave it back! It was way too weird.Can't imagine needing a device to turn on my lights. I have a nice Bluetooth speaker I bought at Costco to sync to my phone, and I play music through a GOOGLE MUSIC app and Pandora.Nice quality.All we need.

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    1. Real life feedback. Thanks, Madeline.

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    2. If you have a spotty internet connection (and sometimes you don't know) you may have been hearing the Echo reconnecting to the network. It plays a gentle, but sci-fi like tone when it links up. This is how I found out that I had internet connectivity issues.

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  4. All the new tech fascinates me though I understand very little of it. I think seniors are mostly set in their ways and probably won't use Alexa. How the heck have we survived all these years by flicking our own light switch or using a paper map to find our way?

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    1. Seniors are changing. As a percentage basis, those 65+ are the fastest growing age group using the Internet. Yes, there are a lot of us stuck in our ways. But, others may be hesitating due to caution and the proper question: will this improve my life?

      It will be interesting to watch whether this type of product proves a fad, or a lasting trend. For now, I am going to pass.

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  5. I enjoy technology and have been surrounded by it for years. That being said, I will not get a so-called smart speaker. We all heard about the TVs that were actually watching and recording people awhile back. I do not need that level of intrusion into my life, and the smart speaker is just another example of that intrusion. Younger people will look at me as a dinosaur most likely for such an attitude, but I see too many of them sacrificing their freedoms in the pursuits of the next high-tech product.

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    1. It all reminds me of the movie, Wall*E. Humans have so little physical activity that they can no longer get out of their high-tech chairs. Our future?

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  6. Yes!!I dont have the tall one, but I have multple dots.I am, frankly unconcerned with the Amazon issues (although I refuse to have a talking remote for cable, for that reason). I dont feel uncomfortable. If readers are wondering what I use it for: you can tell it to play any song in the world, or you can make play lists. It connects to my google calendar and tells me about my day. it tells me the news and weather. It wakes me up. it lets me go to sleep and set a time on the music (I have no clock and have not for years). It tells me the news, weather and stock. And I can tell it to turn off my lights at night by gettins special bulsbs. While I dont have one, my daughter and son in law have a smart home and the use it to manage that.

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    1. Interesting. Thanks, Barbara. Considering how many of these devices have been sold I figured at least a few readers would have them and use them.

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  7. I am looking at/considering this for older senior with memory + sight issues. It can make announcement/reminder that the oven is on, take medications, appointments if synched to calendar. I'm hoping at some point it will be able to call 911. A relative has an emergency call button but it's always charging on nightstand. and he sleeps on sofa - guess where - the living room. I think there are possibilities for those with various types of impairments. It can also order groceries - cat food for example for those who don't drive anymore. But what is really needed is a robot that can find the keys, wallet, hearing aids, and everything else he can't find.

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    1. That is a fascinating point, Kathie. I had not thought about the uses for seniors or anyone with real mobility problems. In that case I can see a real value.

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    2. I also can see how this technology could be used to help elders stay in their homes more safely!! Never thought about it. Thanks for insight,Kathy!

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  8. I don't have one because I don't really see how it will make my life any easier. I'm pretty sure I can do most of what these devices do by using my phone or PC, with minimal extra effort.

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  9. I love technology and all the advancements the internet has given us (paying bills online, essentially having a library in your home, etc.) but this is where I draw the line. I will not invite big brother in while even paying for him to be there! We need to get up out of our chairs. We need to keep our minds and bodies active. It's the old "use it or lose it" concept. I do not trust something that can be recording everything said in my household. I know most anything can be hacked these days and I know I am not smart enough to prevent it. I would make one exception to these products and that is in the case of a person with physical/mental issues that something like this could be used to improve their quality of life. I would still use it with caution even if I had one for those reasons.

    We have been looking at the newer televisions and so many that have the features my husband would like are smart TVs now. These even concern me due to things I have heard about them watching and recording you!

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    1. I think the listening aspect of TVs is a bit overblown. Most do not have that option. For those that do, just don't turn on the ability for voice-activated services. The default setting will not be with voice activation on.

      I am not all that concerned about someone listening to me or Betty on a speaker since our conversations are rather boring. But, I am not happy about it being connected to my home wireless network. That way into our home does give me pause.

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  10. The only thing I want is music speakers. I have no interest in being so lazy I can't get up and turn something on. Our house is not so big we can't move across the room and turn a switch. Also, the big brother aspect is a little concerning, to me.
    b

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    1. From comments above and my own research, the speaker quality of these devices is not very good. A decent bluetooth or wired set of speakers is much better for listening to tunes.

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  11. We have Alexa in the family room – of course we do – this is another of hubby's toys – and I don’t ever think of using it – and honestly I don’t think he does either – but our daughter has one and uses it all the time – to play music or add to her shopping list or answer questions – and our two younger grandchildren each have one and as far as I can tell when I have been at their home, use it a lot to play music and answer questions.

    Just another toy to take up room as far as I can tell.

    I have enough trouble with the computer, iPad and iPhone – I really don’t need another electronic gadget to deal with!!

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    1. Knowing your husband I am not surprised. he has always loved the newest gadget.

      I can see how a house with younger kids could use these speakers as educational tools. My old school nature kicks in, though, and says, "look it up on line or in a book. Learn how to find answers to questions!"

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  12. I have several in my home and have integrated them into my "smart home" system. I use them extensively for home control, music and reading my audio books, podcasts, etc. The speaker on my Echo is decent, and I have my Amazon Dot connected to my stereo system in my office, so I get high quality sound. I have subscribed to Amazon Prime Music, so when I want to hear a song from my youth, I ask for it and it plays. It makes my life easier and fun.

    My thoughts on "Big Brother." If "they" want to listen to you, "they" will find a way. I feel no more vulnerable with my smart speaker than I do with my computer, which can also be hacked to monitor you by a number of agencies or bright 15 year olds.

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    1. Yes. This exactly. And frankly when it comes to the laziness factor, I work out an hour a day and clean my house. Where does it say I "need" to get up to turn the lights out or dim them. A huge difference between laziness and efficiency. I may have to blog about this!

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  13. Early adapter to the Echo. Lazy..would you give up your tv remote? A wonderful new addition to home entertainment and automation. In addition to listening to all my playlists, asking Alexa for old tunes, she turn on/off the lights (no more arguments with the wife), sets thermostat and answers sport scores. We could add door locks & garage door monitoring, and add the new door bells" Ring" camera. Also recently purchased the portable "Tap" to take outside on patio for music. I have never been one to worry about my privacy....if someone wants to hack my computer, listen to my cell phone..they must lead a boring life.

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    1. A good recap of smartspeaker capabilities. As I read some of my responses to comments above, I catch myself sounding a bit like an old geezer!

      I will add one comment about the hacking situation, since it happened to my computer a few weeks ago: I don't care if someone wants to read my e-mail or look at my search history. But, placing malware or ransomware in my system...tends tends to tick me off.

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  14. No!
    No and no!
    I do not believe we have privacy in USA any longer. I feel many have a false sense of privacy but I don't think it actually exists any longer. There is always a risk when we take on new things but I am not ready to accept this. I don't feel that I have anything to 'hide' but that does not mean that I want it spread all over the world. Anyone that wants information about me can find. It's all out there if you know where to look but I am not going to help you on that adventure. If I did it would not be an adventure. Anyone want info on my, work for it; I did .

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    1. Well said: if you want to probe into my life, work for it!

      Honestly, so far the comments are about half and half for and against this technology. I was hoping to get a clear consensus that would help me decide if I should take the plunge. But, so far, flip a coin.

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    2. I grew up in a small town with nosey neighbors, so I lost any illusion of privacy long ago.

      Yesterday I had to modify my security questions for my online bank. One of the options was "your maternal grandmother's maiden name," and "the name of your elementary school." Both answers could be found by anyone with a few keystrokes on the computer. Privacy is largely over.

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  15. Referring to your previous post, this definitely falls in the category of things I can live without. I can see all kinds of ways this would enhance my quality of life enormously if I were quadriplegic. Happily, I'm not; so, for the time being, getting up out of my chair to do things and writing some things rather than speaking them are activities that enhance both physical and brain health and therefore my quality of life. -Jean

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    1. I am glad for the earlier comment about the ability of things like this to help the physically disabled. I wouldn't have thought of that.

      Like you, Jean, that may be important in my future, but not now.

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    2. It is very popular in the assisted living facility where my Dad lives. People with low vision can play music, hear the news or podcasts on demand, get the day and date (important with failing memory) weather, reminders for meds, appointments, etc. All by voice.

      Rick in Oregon

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  16. I loved that movie Wall-E. Yep--prophetic!

    No I don't have one, and I'm not even tempted to get one. I'm not opposed to them. I just don't seem to need one. I can barely keep up with having a computer and a smart phone, both of which are much smarter than I am!

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    1. OK for others but not for you: that seems to be my position at the moment.

      I don't think I am really concerned about the privacy issues, more what would I do with it to justify another thing in my life.

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  17. The bottom line is that technology is a tool. Personally, every time I make bread, I use y mixer with the dough hoook. I COULD do it the old fashioned way, but I never think that the mixer is "lazier", just that it is more efficient. Just as we all have TV and DVD remotes for which we do not get out of the chair. The difference is, what tool works for us. I remember will in the old days on a BBS I used to belong to (remember them??), there was a six month, very volataile discussion on the laziness of using a rice cooker instead of the traditional method.

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    1. People do have opinions about this subject! Frankly, I am a bit surprised by how many comments have been generated.

      For me, I think these exchanges have led me to conclude that adding a smartspeaker would be counter to my goal of cutting down clutter and things I own, and it doesn't appear to add enough of a boost in my lifestyle to be worth that compromise. As these comments have made clear, that is the best answer for me. It is not a universal choice and that is absolutely fine.

      Six months about a rice cooker? Wow.

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  18. Bob,

    An offer because of your great blog. Buy an Amazon Dot (50 bucks on amazon.com or $45 for refurbished). Hook it up to your music system (it does not have a large speaker). Try it out for a few weeks. If you don't like it, I will buy it from you. How's that for a plan?

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    1. Well, how could I say no to that very generous offer. I will order the Dot later today. I'll do a follow up post in a few weeks! Thanks, rainguynw!

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    2. Bob,
      My pleasure. I have gifted Dots to friends and family so it will just be another Dot waiting to be gifted if you don't like it.... but I think you might. Just yesterday I had to convert a list of metric measures to inches and feet. I just went down the list and asked for each of the conversions, and got them instantly. I add things to my Reminders list on my iPhone...without the phone in my hand. I set alarms, "remind me at 4pm to..." timers for cooking and baking in the kitchen and it reminds me at the appointed time. Lots of uses, especially if you spend some time exploring its capabilities. I have noticed most of my friends don't use it to its full potential.

      Just had a hankering to hear "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers." I asked, and it is playing now.

      Enjoy. And feel free to contact me if you have questions on set-up or use.

      Rick in Oregon (rainguynw)

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    3. It arrived a little while ago!

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    4. Worth a try! Can't wait to hear what you think. Also can't wait to play some Mexican Train with you and Betty!!

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  19. Don't own a smart speaker. Am not considering getting one due to potential privacy issues. Although I have mobility issues, I choose solutions and strategies that do not expose me to further privacy loss, potential spyware, possible hacking. Is this less convenient? You bet. But it's worth the peace of mind.

    If I became confined to a wheelchair, I would likely revisit the risk/benefit factors. But I think I would lean towards solutions that don't involve a 24/7 listening device that can be so easily misused.

    My younger teacher colleagues who are still working are comfortable with the device and about half of them have one. They get directions, place orders, make notes to themselves, lists for the kids, etc. Primary motivation seems to be the convenience for those who are juggling raising young children, running a house, and working over 40 hours a week.

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    1. If you saw the comment just above yours, a reader has offered to buy the smaller version from me if I try it and don't like it. I am not sure if I will really use it enough, but I will take him up on his offer and report back.

      Regarding the privacy issue: I have several good protection software programs on my computer and I was still hacked badly a few weeks ago. I am not sure we really have much protection from hacking or privacy issues anymore. Using a credit card is probably much more risky. That said, yes, having a device with the ability to hear me 24/7 is a little weird.

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    2. Yes, Bob, I saw the comment from rainguynw. Very generous offer, you may find yourself liking the convenience. Thanks to AWmom and rainguynw for pointing out some of the caveats.

      Luckily my husband is a retired IT professional who keeps up on the safeguards available, you can do more than you think. He says alot of the protection technology already exists, it's a question of companies deciding to implement it and having to up the cost of products and services, which is why they opt not to.

      For example, professional voice recognition software has existed for at least 20 years that keeps speech recognition files for each user. We use it for wordprocessing and surfing the net, amazing technology. So a version of Alexis could be produced that would respond only to individual users instead of to everyone.

      Similarly, there are encryptions that banks have routinely used and could be installed on credit cards to protect the embedded chips from being accessed and hacked by thieves. Since banks won't do this, consumers face the less convenient options of not using such cards or buying wallets that stop access.

      Being a vigilant and informed consumer seems to be key here. Thanks for the tips, everybody.

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  20. I live in Chicago Bob and Jason Knowels on abc 7 did a series where Alexis was called by a person sounding like him and actually did things like open the door ! It was scary !just recently he talked about when you are out make sure ask to join networks is off on your phone .people were being charged for joining networks they didn't agree to, We need to make sure safeguards are in place ,Please check out his consumer series a great read!

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    1. I would never interface my Echos with any lock or security device, garage door opener, etc. (which is easy, because I don't have any). It does not do voice recognition. It will respond to anyone (why it is popular with families). You can take it offline anytime using the accompanying app on your smartphone. I do that when I travel.

      Rick in Oregon

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  21. No, no and no. Maybe....if I had severe mobility issues. Like Galen, I have enough troubles with the laptop and cell phone. Here's an example - yesterday I received 29 messages via a group text from a friend re: a retirement party she was organizing. After the onslaught of replies (which I deleted since I didn't know the sources), I still didn't know where the party was. Really??!! I don't need that kind of clutter in my life.

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    1. I must chuckle...I have 7 (yes, seven) books on my coffee table to read, plus 2 others I am in the middle of. The blog requires writing everyday, the gym is 5 days a week, I am restoring vintage radios, and now the fellow from Oregon has offered to pay for a Dot (a smaller version of the Echo) to see if I like it.

      A clutter-free life right now is not what is in the cards.

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  22. Reminds me of this futuristic item...
    => https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2IJdfxWtPM

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  23. Somehow yes you are right. Last week I purchased a smart speaker from AliBaba and trust me its working fine.

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  24. We have an Echo that was gifted to us. Initially, we weren't sure about it, but I have come to love the shopping list function. It's so easy to use (Alexis, add Greek yogurt to my shopping list) and much more convenient in the store on my iPhone than a paper list. Plus we can both add to it as things go empty.
    I haven't been too worried about the privacy issue, although we've had some weird conversations where she just lights up and starts talking. As well, we have a granddaughter named Alexis, which seems to confuse her. Ha! Oh, and we haven't connected her to much...no thermostat, door locks, etc. So I'm not worried about her breaching our perimeter unwittingly. LOL
    I also like to have her play a random song while I'm cooking sometimes, but overall the others are correct re: her speaker quality.

    Will be interested in your experience with the Dot. We also have one of those...again, gifted. It's in our lower level and we use it much less frequently.
    --Hope

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