Alexa, Google, and Cookies: The frightening reality

I don’t have a ‘digital assistant’. But my wife used to have ‘Google Assistant’ active on her phone. She liked that it allowed her to ask her phone a question, without having to type it in.

Many people love their ‘Amazon Alexa’, using it to do many things in their lives, especially to remind them of appointments or dates, or to play music.

We all know that ‘Cookies’ trace what we search for online, and most of the sites we browse on the Internet. We can refuse to allow Cookies in the main, though that will often mean you are unable to look at something, for example a news website in full.

In our modern society, many people complain about the intrusion into our lives. Excessive CCTV, tracking of credit card use, tracking of bus and train ticket use, and much more. Unless you walk everywhere, and keep all your money in a box under your bed, you can be sure that your habits are being tracked, like it or not.

But the ‘digital assistants’ take this to another level, and in my opinion, one that should cause us all concern.

Here are two examples of why I believe this to be true.

Earlier this week, we were watching TV in the evening. My wife’s phone was connected to the home wi-fi, but she wasn’t using it at the time. It was sitting on a side table, the screen black. During a break in the programme, she turned to me and started to talk about what had happened in the first part. Just general chit-chat, nothing too private. The screen on her phone lit up, and she picked it up, presuming someone was calling, or sending a text.

She was shocked to see that her phone was typing what she had been saying. She turned to me and said, “It’s typing everything I have just been talking about”. As she said that, it continued to type those words too. She went into settings, and disabled Google Assistant. The phone didn’t like that, and popped up a warning that ‘You will be unable to access many features of your phone if you do this”. If it could have spoken those words, I have no doubt it would have sounded very much like the voice of Big Brother, in the film of Orwell’s novel.

Once it had been uninstalled, she was unable to find where it had stored what it had been typing. Her words had disappeared into the Great Google Hard Drive, somewhere in America, presumably.

This morning, we were unpacking a parcel. It was a buggy and car seat combination that we had ordered for my step-daughter’s new baby, due in two weeks. As we struggled with the huge carton, my wife’s phone rang, and it was her daughter. A happy coincidence. They switched their phones to the Facebook equivalent of face-time, and she was shown the cartons laid out on the carpet. As they carried on chatting, I went back into the office room to continue checking on blog posts.

I had been reading one from Lobotero, concerning ISIS and Iran. Scrolling down to the end, an advertisement popped up at the bottom of his site.

It was for the exact same buggy and car seat combination. The same model, and the same colour. Stupidly, it suggested I should order one, and even offered a discount voucher. Perhaps they thought I would buy two of them, for one baby?

Of greater concern was the fact that Facebook had obviously been monitoring my wife’s phone camera activity on their site. In less than forty seconds, that had generated an large advertisement on the website of an unconnected American blogger, directly targeted at me.

If they can do that, I have to wonder what else they can do.

108 thoughts on “Alexa, Google, and Cookies: The frightening reality

  1. I work in the industry so all of this is kind of just very normal to me. Unfortunately there isn’t really any way out unless you go and live completely off the grid in a forest. If it helps there is so much data that at this stage it’s all just machines targeting you with stuff. No one is really looking at anyone’s in-depth personal behaviour. There isn’t a person following you around picking ads for you… it’s just AI algorithms.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds very scary, Pete! Otherwise, we all really dont know what sensors are implemented too in to the phones, but not acitivated yet. Every electronic devices connected with the internet can be remoted accessed, without users permission, and the users knowledge too. Stealth targeting is one of the things the new 5G will be allow much more better for most of all new devices in your household. They call it “smart home”, i call it “virtual prison”. 😉 Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is only going to get worse, Michael. I predict that one day we will HAVE to buy internet-connected refrigerators, televisions, and major electrical goods. Then they will even be able to see what our dirty washing looks like! 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is indeed worrying, Pete, although I agree that it is very difficult to be completely off the radar, and even if possible it would make life very difficult (unless you live in a very isolated place with no access to any services, these days everything seems to involve online forms and appointments to sort even the simplest matter). On the other hand, a lot of these companies are focused on making money, and although the data can be put to other use, I’m not sure it worth their time and effort to do so. I’ve had to laugh sometimes, because as I read, review, and research on a variety of subjects, some that have little to do with my everyday life or my personal interests, the recommendations I get to buy stuff can be completely off-the-wall.
    Oh, I watched a film yesterday, Detroit, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and wondered if you had watched it. It completely passed me by (I think it was only given a limited release), but I thought you might find it interesting if you hadn’t come across it.
    Have a great weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Know how you feel Pete. I am not on Facebook and have a flip phone. Still, anything I look at on line, whether on Amazon or just the latest new cars shows up in a pop-up ad. If I look at the latest Honda I will get emails from every Honda dealer between here and Orlando. As for cookies, if I shut them off I can’t reach my bank on-line. Sheesh.

    Big Brother is Watching!


    Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we didn’t have a choice! They took away the public phones and landlines became an additional bill, so they became obsolete. Even in airports, you can’t make a public phone call. What’s one to do? I hate cell phones. They are the demise of civilization. No, I’m not exaggerating.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh heck yes. I deleted my Facebook account last year for a short time and later started a new one to keep up with a group I’m in for my kids and one tip I read was to make sure when you sign up for a new service you don’t connect it to your Facebook account. Instead you should use your email to sign up for accounts. It doesn’t matter, though, they are alway tracking us – If we are on or not. I find it terrifying and my parents warned me about it years ago before there was such a thing as internet or Facebook. And then I read 1984… and now here I am, watching it all come true.

  6. I don’t use a personal assistant either. I find it rather creepy. My husband’s new phone came with something already set up and it seems like ‘the voice’ is always listening and interrupting! It’s a cheaper version of an iPhone and I only know my Android so I can’t help him figure out how to turn it off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I won’t ever have any computer ‘assistant’, anywhere. Whenever I buy a new device first thing I do is disable Siri or any other computerized ‘helper’. I can find things for myself. Too scary, even if it is just programming. By the way, google hqs are everywhere, not just the US.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I surprised my wife with Broadway tickets two years ago…from the moment I bought the tickets, I got banner ads on all of my websites asking me if i wanted tickets….i had to hide my computer so she wouldn’t see them….it’s a fact of digital life…if you interact with social media, there is a record of it somewhere…

    Liked by 1 person

  9. occasionally I walk into my bathroom and my Alexa Dot is circling – always listening, I presume. Once my boyfriend and I were talking about a song we liked by Bruce Springsteen … I left the room. He asked Alexa to play rock – and that song was the next song played. Its definitely uber creepy….

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Sam covers his lens, as his work colleagues have told him to do this. Apparently Big Brother can spy on us through the lens. I’m not sure about this, but I don’t have my webcam plugged in as I only use it to Skype Sam if he’s away.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Good decision, Lucinda. We have to resist ‘Alexa’!
      I have an Amazon Fire tablet, and it keeps prompting me to activate Alexa. I tried to uninstall it, but was not allowed to. So I flatly refuse to activate it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Talking about weird – what is that animation at the bottom of your sidebar all about? CSR Culture Shock Award? Most bizarre. I assume you put it there as your blog is ad free isn’t it? Which reminds me, when you pay for your plan, after the first year do you also then have to pay extra for the domain name?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That gif is from Chandler Swain’s film reviews. He runs a notoriously difficult quiz now and then, showing 25 stills from films with a similar theme. I always try to guess all the answers, but I only got all 25 correct that one time. So he sent me the award.
      After the first year on the Personal Plan, you have to pay to renew the .com domain. I kept the plan going, as I like the extra space allowance, and the ad-free aspect. It is not that much more to have the .com name
      For my 365 day hobby, (366 this year) I think it is good value. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for the info Pete, I thought that was the case but WP don’t make it clear. I’ll probably go that route with the Cornish blog as the adverts drive me bonkers and are not always very appropriate! (Now I need to decide what domain name I want…)

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I hadn’t used Facebook for a few years, but went back recently to post some of my poems. I nevr liked Facebook that much but it was nuce to re-connect with a few people. However, I became very disoncerted when an advert for a Care Home in my town kept popping up. I have never hpgoigled about Care Homes, or put the search into yahoo. But there it was, and I have been struggling terribly, inwardly, lately, with the fear that I will have to go nto such a place as I am so disabled and cannot look after myself. I am not that old but I had cancer that left me like this, and blind, to boot. It alarmed me. How did it read my mind? It was scary! I do have Siri on my phone and iPad but it never picked up any conversation about such a thing. I do go onto Amazon though, and also buy books but nothing to do with Care Homes. I still do not know how it read my mibd. What ELSE does it know about Ne? Help!!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a perfect example of how such things can accumulate enough information about you to come to the conclusion to suggest a care home, Lorraine. I have never had a Facebook account, as I think it is the master of intrusion. But Google and Amazon are catching up on them.
      We all want to use the good things online, and to take advantage of communication with people, and online shopping. Unfortunately, that is just the ‘carrot’ that tempts us into the rest that we don’t know about.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s just weird Pete. It spooked me. I don’t recall that I have ever purchased anything that might even remitely think thatI am disabled. But who knows how things are interpreted! I still dont’t like Facebook, but just went on now, and what popped up again, right at the top? You got it. The sekf same Care Home! Actually it doesn’t look too bad! More like a hotel 😀

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I would suggest that Facebook can make assumptions about you, based on everything you have ever typed into it, and the responses you received. It probably monitors your blog too, in collusion with WordPress who undoubtedly share ‘cookies’ for payment. (And my blog too, almost certainly.)
          The only way to avoid being spooked is to never do anything online.
          Naturally, none of us want to do that, as we enjoy the communication it offers.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Lol I know now! But yes, I certainly don’t want to give uo online stuff as it is my only means of communication with people. I had no idea it coukd pick up things from my blog, but there you go – I am not very teccy. Going to see round that nice Care Homenlater 😂

            Liked by 2 people

              1. Lol. I was joking! Too much life and at the moment waiting for tomorrow’s episode of your story !individuality in me to go there yet. I have more annoying of the world to do yet😀 and anyway I am hangin on a clifff

                Liked by 2 people

  12. One of the reasons I don’t have a smart phone. On Facebook I congratulated a friend in Australia on the birth of her baby and next time I switched on I was confronted by ads from Mothercare! On holiday abroad a couple of months ago, Jon’s phone went and it was Google suggesting he write a review for the restaurant where we’d eaten the evening before. I do wonder what other, more sinister, uses can be made of what ‘they’ know about us.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. As far as digital assistants are concerned, Pete, I won’t give one house-room. I think I have Siri on my old iPhone, but it’s never been activated. One of my casual acquaintances is of the old-school “if you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear” mentality, and yet he often moans about how unreliable or unpredictable the government is: I haven’t yet heard him go so far as to call it untrustworthy, but in my humble opinion, that’s a given! They’re even talking now about making people who buy pay-as-you-go mobiles ‘register’ [probably at a cost too] citing ‘security concerns’, of course; I hate to have to say it, but I see it as just another indication of 21st century fascism on the rise. Cheers, Jon.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. As far as my own online profile is concerned, I don’t care that much. I put it all out there, and couldn’t be bothered who knows. But when it starts to listen in on things, and use that to generate advertising, I am worried (like you) about what happens next.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 3 people

  14. There are other, slightly more prosaic, less worrying explanations, Pete.

    Julie’s phone probably thought it had heard the wake word (something like “Hey Google”) and was trying to work out what was required.

    Your advert was probably generated by the act of searching and looking for the item.

    Having said that, I deleted my Facebook account early last year, and haven’t been consciously using Google for anything for about a month. I use DuckDuckGo for searching the internet, and haven’t seen any adverts which could even remotely be generated by anything I’ve been interested in.

    Facebook knows enough about its users already, without having to deal with the masses of data that would be gathered from phone cameras and microphones.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s not alarmist, Pete. They are tracking you, it’s just more subtle than using microphones and cameras. If they were using microphones, they would have to discern who was speaking. Is it you? The TV? Someone else in the room?

        Imagine if the government decided to make all its citizens carry a device which would hold a record of where you were, who you called, what you searched for, who you liked, what your opinions were on any given topic. And was able to connect all that data together.

        There would be no need for elections, because they already know how you’ll vote. It would just be a money saving exercise, really.

        Liked by 2 people

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