Thursday, April 19, 2018

Creepy Connections

Our younger daughter, the Fashionista, treats Alexa as a valued and trusted family friend and the center of family life. Yes, that Alexa. The one who’s been reported as randomly bursting into maniacal laughter. And why wouldn’t Alexa cackle? She’s probably thinking, “There’s one born every minute.”
I don’t think the Fashionista actually talks to Alexa more than to her husband, but it’s got to be a close thing.
“Doesn’t it feel just a little bit creepy to you, having a device in the middle of your house that’s in permanent listening mode and you have no control over what data it transmits to whom?”
“Why, Mom? My smartphone does exactly the same thing.”
And the Fashionista tells me a story about how clothing brands that she mentions in conversation turn up later as ads on her smartphone. Even when the phone was turned off and in her pocket during the conversation. She’s sure the ads are triggered by her words, because some time ago she and a colleague were discussing the sheer awfulness of the [REDACTED] clothing line and how they’d never pollute their closets with anything from [REDACTED] – and guess what, a couple of days later she started seeing ads from [REDACTED] which must have been inspired by that discussion, because she has never ever searched for anything even remotely related to that despised brand.
She finds it amusing that the data analysis is so primitive, but she doesn’t seem to be bothered at all about being eavesdropped on.
I find that even creepier than the original spying. Come the return of the Borg, she'll probably be the first to self-assimilate.
I have somewhat longer reflections on this topic, including ways for fiction writers to use this brave new world, in today's post at


  1. "Alexa, they shoot spies, don't they?"

  2. The more I hear, the gladder I am that my cell phone is so dumb. I don't think it's even transmitting my whereabouts. It sends and receives texts (no attachments or pics accepted) and makes and receives calls. Period. It drives me crazy that people don't take the time to look at setting on their smart phones to turn off some of these intrusive trackings that often show up on FB posts. Why do these people not care, and then when they do and start complaining all aghast, why don't they realize they could have done something to prevent it? Yeah, a common rant of mine. Which means, as you have surmised, I will never have an Alexa of any sort in my home, nor a smart tv or any other "convenience" listening in or monitoring my usage. My personal computer is chancy enough.

    Your daughter is probably right about the phone listening in even when supposedly off. I was pretty freaked out when I realized that my Kindle Fire could upgrade, in fact could only upgrade when it was turned off. In my 20th century brain, turned off means TURNED OFF and inactive. Apparently, technology these days does not rest...

  3. And now I've finished reading your madgeniusclub post and find I am in the same mind as you when you say: "When I do think about it, I rely on being too old, too unimportant, and too boring to attract attention. Where’s the fun in Twitter-mobbing someone nobody’s ever heard of? What’s the point of collecting data on somebody’s Internet use when all you get is the url’s for a bunch of writing and fiberart sites?" My basic head in the sand, I'll be passed right by approach to life. It's either that or a shrug of whatever I try in an effort to protect myself will soon be figured out by the bad guys anyway.

    Such a good post, and it makes me wonder if you've been watching Mr. Robot. There's an FBI detective with no social life who's only person to talk to appears to be Alexa, with whom she carries on quite personal conversations with late into the night. There's the hack into a person's home system that does just what you describe in turning up the thermostat, turning on every electric and electronic thing, noise levels at full bore, lights going on and off, totally unresponsive to the owner or the company she contacts for help and driving her out to a hotel, just what the hackers wanted so they could make her home their base.

    And to be honest, I have a great distrust of the newest cars and their sensors and their connection to the internet and their internal computer-dominated systems. I'm not even comfortable with electric windows on my 2005 car (which replaced a car with hand cranked ones, very few bells and whistles and quite easy to diagnose when something went amiss).

    But I needlessly rant on. We are in the same choir . . . ;-)

  4. Never heard of Mr. Robot... but sounds interesting!

    The First Reader keeps wishing for a self-driving car and I keep saying, "If you want a car that will report everywhere you go... and will likely only take you to places where Somebody Else thinks its okay for you to go... okay, but hands off my Mazda!"

  5. lol! Yup. As for Mr Robot, it is an original USA channel series, going into its 4th season. The script writers check everything with real hackers and others who know about code. Apparently every bit of code shown is authentic and most of the scenarios relating to how tied we are to the internet and how easily it is hacked is fairly true. They are being kept honest by a fan base of, well I suppose one would call them nerds who check everything and call them out if they make a real blunder. A really good series imo and probably worth you taking at least a partial look at.

    In a sea of junk, gratuitous violence and fluff on tv, I'm finding this series riveting and difficult to guess where a season is going. One where you really have to pay attention and then be prepared to be totally surprised anyway. A bit dark, but then much of sci fi can lean that way and still be damn good. ;-)

  6. What? A TV show that tries to get it right? Inconceivable! (And yes, Inigo Montoya, I do know what that means!) That would be a welcome change for all of us. (Me because the show would be less irritating, the others because I would be less irritating. They are tired of me yelling things like, “Case officer, dammit, not agent!” and, “That’s not Luo!”)

    1. LOL My father-in-law was a doctor and he couldn't STAND watching any of the medical/dr/hospital tv dramas, and if he did, no one could STAND to stay in the room with him!

  7. Oh, yeah. One of my brothers-in-law is an ER surgeon. I don't mind when he complains that the EMTs should just stop because the patient has clearly been dead for at least ten minutes. What I hate is when he starts discussing what they should be doing. In all too much bloody detail - and that's a literal 'bloody', not a Britishism.


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