America’s Invited Spies

I’m staying with in-laws, both retired bankers with a lot of disposable time and money, who have Alexa in every room.
I am connected to their network, which their ISP, Google, etc. can determine by my IP address.

Last night, before bed, kitchen conversation briefly turned to the topic of people buying too much house via interest-only mortgages and ending up under water, and then to a friend who lost his shirt gambling on real estate appreciation before the 1980s oil bust, and then to some general investment advice for the benefit of my nephew.

Then, not five minutes later, when I brought up YouTube on my computer, for the first time EVER, YouTube served up ads for investment services. Somewhere, an AI correlated my IP address to my in-laws Alexa account (or any of the other techno-toys that fill their home to the rafters) and targeted the add accordingly. What else is being targeted here?

These “in home search engine assistants” are spies. Whatever else they might be, they are spies and manipulators. The vendors can say what they like. The lawmakers can say what they like. They have spied on you. They do spy on you. They will continue to spy on you. The force of economics guarantees this must be so–as long as you permit them in your home. And it won’t be just to sell you investment advice, but to steer what you see and experience to shape you into the kind of consumer and voter those who control the AI want you so be. And to shape your children.

This is not a conspiracy theory. This is simple observation and reasoning. Those who control the AI can spy on you and manipulate you. Doing so is in their interest, politically and economically, so they will do it. And not just the vendors, but their data customers. So when you use Alexa to order that new fire truck for little Johnny or bone for fido, you aren’t just helping Google place adds in your search results, you are helping Google and the GOP and the DNC and yes, the Kremlin manipulate the US electorate.

And of course, more than one manufacture has already been caught putting voice and video capture technology in their televisions, for thinly veiled reasons that are really–spying on you in order to sell marketing information about you.

This is not just an affront to privacy and decency. This will inevitably erode the independence of the electorate and weaken democracy, as it already has done. As researchers have already reported.

Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, Echo, Cortana, and any and all other such tools with Internet connected speech recognition and AI are not harmless tools or fun gadgets. They are dangerous. They are corrosive. They are the real skynet, they are here now, and this government will do nothing to protect you.

Of course. You aren’t going to heed my warning, and even if you do, your neighbors and the US Government, wholly-owned subsidiary of US business interests, won’t. The ship has already sailed. The only hope now is that competition will do what common sense didn’t, protect us from our own inexhaustible laziness. Maybe, just maybe, all this espionage will be shares broadly enough that it no one particular bad actor will control us.

But one thing’s for certain. Whoever has their hands in-repainting the playing field of public discourse–it won’t be us, the little guys, the individuals.

Alexa is skynet, but you control the power supply. For now.