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.