The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistants

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The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistants

Postby stillrobertpaulsen » Wed May 16, 2018 5:09 pm

I've never wanted one in my home and this article while attempting to mollify paranoia only increased mine:


I asked Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant if they're spying on me — here's what they said

Todd Haselton
17 hrs ago

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A lot of people are worried that voice assistants like Amazon (AMZN)'s Alexa, Apple (AAPL)'s Siri or the Google (GOOGL) Assistant are spying on us at home.

All three companies have said the assistants are not listening all the time, but only listen for a wake word — or perhaps hidden commands humans can't hear.

So I asked all three voice assistants if they're spying on us, just for kicks. Here's what each one said.
"Hey Alexa, are you spying on me?"

Here's what Amazon Alexa said:

"I only send audio back to Amazon when you activate me. For more information, and to view Amazon's privacy notice, visit the help section of your Alexa app or alexa.amazon.com."

"Ok Google, are you spying on me?"


Here's what Google Assistant said:

"Your security comes first in everything Google does. It's important Google keeps your data private and safe and puts you in control. You can learn more at privacy.google.com."

"Hey Siri, are you spying on me?"

Here's what Siri said: "Nope."

Looks like there's no room for joking here. It's good Amazon and Google direct users to their privacy pages. Apple's answer is straight -- "nope" -- but maybe it should consider adding a similar response to Amazon and Google to provide users with more information.


So comforting, right?

But wait, what the hell does this mean?

All three companies have said the assistants are not listening all the time, but only listen for a wake word — or perhaps hidden commands humans can't hear.


Hidden from humans for who? Dogs? Dolphins? Aliens?

Then there's this response from Alexa:

"I only send audio back to Amazon when you activate me."


Sounds to me like that's saying, "Once you activate me, I'll send audio back to Amazon from that point forward. The only way to stop me is to destroy me."
"Huey Long once said, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I'm afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security."
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby Belligerent Savant » Wed May 16, 2018 5:30 pm

.
Pervasive intrusion is the norm.

And it's not just those mini spy poles. Your mobile device tracks all your movement AND can listen in on your conversations/see you through the camera as well. Same with any 'Smart TV' -- any device connected to the internet with a microphone and/or camera can record/transmit audio and/or video, ostensibly to 'advertisers' or related ad agencies, though other agencies can obtain records/logs as well. And that's all WITHIN your home. Step outside, anywhere near a metro area, and you'll be monitored by cameras attached to streetlights, buildings, storefronts, drones, etc., a subset of which are equipped with Facial Recognition software and micro boom microphones.

Some of us will eventually be inspired to depart the grid, away from electronics (it'll be the trendy thing to do for certain demographics) -- it's already begun in the fringes. Overwhelmingly, however, the plebes don't mind one bit. Facebook, social media and 'smart' contraptions (the Internet of THINGS) will only increase in frequency/widespread adoption, as well as sophistication/subtlety.
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby DrEvil » Wed May 16, 2018 10:44 pm

I'm not a big fan of having a microphone in my living room, but I've had one in my pocket for the last twenty years, so it's a bit late to worry about it now.

And then there's the geek inside me whispering that it's awesome. This is technology that anyone can use. Once it's set up there's zero technological know-how involved. Grandma can use it just as easily as your average teenager. It's essentially an early iteration of the Star Trek computer, for better or worse.

Once we get to a point of "good enough", both software and hardware wise, it shouldn't be a problem to run the whole thing locally, doing all the voice processing and recording on the device (pretty sure that already happens to a degree, to cut down on latency), and only sending out the specific question you asked. It wouldn't be any more intrusive than typing a question into google search.

Obviously I wouldn't trust any of the big companies with that, but all we "need" is a big voice recognition scandal for the privacy-minded alternatives to start popping up.
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby alloneword » Thu May 17, 2018 4:03 am

Interesting piece from Cryptogon on the history and origins of SIRI from a few years back:

Introducing Siri: DARPA’s Ghost in Apple’s Machine
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby stillrobertpaulsen » Thu May 17, 2018 8:08 pm

Belligerent Savant » Wed May 16, 2018 4:30 pm wrote:.
Pervasive intrusion is the norm.

And it's not just those mini spy poles. Your mobile device tracks all your movement AND can listen in on your conversations/see you through the camera as well.


Thanks for weighing in on this. I don't have a smart TV or voice assistant, but I do have a mobile device. Do you know how to deactivate it from having my movement tracked? I thought I heard there was a way to do that besides just chucking it.
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby mentalgongfu2 » Thu May 17, 2018 9:00 pm

stillrobertpaulsen » Thu May 17, 2018 6:08 pm wrote:
Belligerent Savant » Wed May 16, 2018 4:30 pm wrote:.
Pervasive intrusion is the norm.

And it's not just those mini spy poles. Your mobile device tracks all your movement AND can listen in on your conversations/see you through the camera as well.


Thanks for weighing in on this. I don't have a smart TV or voice assistant, but I do have a mobile device. Do you know how to deactivate it from having my movement tracked? I thought I heard there was a way to do that besides just chucking it.


I don't think that's really possible. Even if you turn off "location" features, your phone is still sending out some location information as it moves between cell towers.
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby Belligerent Savant » Fri May 18, 2018 12:07 am

^^^^^^^^
That's essentially correct. This guy summed it up quite well:

Benjamin Bender, Retired Police Detective St Louis Metropolitan Police
Answered May 11, 2018 ·

If your phone is connected to a power source, i.e. the Battery or the car charger, it can be “tracked” continually. Regardless of if the power is on or off the phone if connected to a power source will continue to “ping” the nearest cell tower and be handed off from one to the next as you travel.

Your phone can be “turned on” to have it ping the nearest cell tower remotely by the carrier as well. When they secretly turn it on there will be no indication visible to you as a user that they have activated your phone and commanded it to ping the nearest tower. Many suspects have been caught by having their phones tracked while turned off. Some just because that is the way the phone is built…to always ping the nearest tower even in Off mode…and some that have been remotely activated by the carrier in cooperation with Law Enforcement (which as I stated before when done gives no indication to you that your phone is on and actively pinging away”.

Many phones now have built in batteries that can’t be removed….thus the phone cant be made to go dark. This is by design per the request of Federal Law Enforcement.

If you want to make sure your phone can’t be tracked or traced regardless of its type or being powered by battery buy one of these. It’s called a block bag or “shielded bag”. A phone put in this type of bag goes totally “dark” until removed.


That last sentence is a reference to a Faraday bag; a Google search -- or perhaps, given the topic of the below article, opting instead for Qwant https://www.qwant.com/ or DuckDuckGo https://duckduckgo.com/ search engines if privacy is of interest -- will yield Faraday bag purchase options.

These work well, and are relatively low-cost:
https://www.usplastic.com/catalog/item. ... id=popcorn

That aside, there is also a Google feature (primarily with Android/Pixel phones, though iPhone users utilizing Google will fall under the similar tracking mechanisms if logged into their Google account, and iPhone has its own tracking applications, though perhaps a bit less pervasive) that will track your movements and even provide a 'monthly snapshot' of locales visited during a given month.

https://qz.com/1183559/if-youre-using-a ... -you-make/


If you’re using an Android phone, Google may be tracking every move you make

The Alphabet subsidiary’s location-hungry tentacles are quietly lurking behind some of the most innovative features of its Android mobile operating system. Once those tentacles latch on, phones using Android begin silently transmitting data back to the servers of Google, including everything from GPS coordinates to nearby wifi networks, barometric pressure, and even a guess at the phone-holder’s current activity. Although the product behind those transmissions is opt-in, for Android users it can be hard to avoid and even harder to understand. Opting in is also required to use several of Android’s marquee features.

As a result, Google holds more extensive data on Android users than some ever realize. That data can be used by the company to sell targeted advertising. It can also be used to track into stores those consumers who saw ads on their phone or computer urging them to visit. This also means governments and courts can request the detailed data on an individual’s whereabouts.

While you’ve probably never heard of it, “Location History” is a longtime Google product with origins in the now-defunct Google Latitude. (Launched in 2009, that app allowed users to constantly broadcast their location to friends.) Today, Location History is used to power features like traffic predictions and restaurant recommendations. While it is not enabled on an Android phone by default—or even suggested to be turned on when setting up a new phone—activating Location History is subtly baked into setup for apps like Google Maps, Photos, the Google Assistant, and the primary Google app. In testing multiple phones, Quartz found that none of those apps use the same language to describe what happens when Location History is enabled, and none explicitly indicate that activation will allow every Google app, not just the one seeking permission, to access Location History data.

Quartz was able to capture transmissions of Location History information on three phones from different manufacturers, running various recent versions of Android. To accomplish this, we created a portable internet-connected wifi network that could eavesdrop and forward all of the transmissions that the devices connected to it broadcast and received. None of the devices had SIM cards inserted. We walked around urban areas; shopping centers; and into stores, restaurants, and bars. The rig recorded every relevant network request made by the Google Pixel 2, Samsung Galaxy S8, and Moto Z Droid that we were carrying.

According to our analysis of the phones’ transmissions, this is just some of the information that gets periodically sent to Google’s servers when Location History is enabled:

A list of types of movements that your phone thinks you could be doing, by likelihood. (e.g. walking: 51%, onBicycle: 4%, inRailVehicle: 3%)
The barometric pressure
Whether or not you’re connected to wifi
The MAC address—which is a unique identifier—of the wifi access point you’re connected to
The MAC address, signal strength, and frequency of every nearby wifi access point
The MAC address, identifier, type, and two measures of signal strength of every nearby Bluetooth beacon
The charge level of your phone battery and whether or not your phone is charging
The voltage of your battery
The GPS coordinates of your phone and the accuracy of those coordinates
The GPS elevation and the accuracy of that

“That goes beyond what you’d expect for Location History,” Bill Budington a security engineer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Quartz when these transmissions were described to him, “especially in terms of predicted activity.” The EFF is a nonprofit organization that advocates for digital civil liberties, freedom, and privacy, which both I and Google have made charitable contributions to in the past.

Google, accurately, describes Location History as entirely opt-in. “With your permission, Google uses your Location History to deliver better results and recommendations on Google products,” a spokesman wrote to Quartz in an email. “For example, you can receive traffic predictions for your daily commute, view photos grouped by locations, see recommendations based on places you’ve visited, and even locate a missing phone. Location History is entirely opt-in, and you can always edit, delete, or turn it off at any time.”

When asked to opt in, however, the full implications of enabling Location History are rarely made clear. Here are some of the ways Google apps ask users to enable Location History.


More at link.
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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby 82_28 » Mon May 21, 2018 4:40 am

Google absolutely tracks every move I make now, along with other "firms". I have simply "embraced" it as a necessary evil. It's how I make my $$$$$$ for the time being. Yes, I can now say "hey google" and the phone just wakes up. Clearly it is listening because it must have something listening to know that it has to be listening for the initial command. But I have to use it for maps and punctuality yo!

So I had to buy a computer last week because my old one said 2009 called and wants its memory limitations back. I went to upgrade the memory and wouldn't you know it, I found out the semi-difficult way that they don't really make the "DMM2"(?) memory sticks anymore. 2 gigs of memory was not cutting it. I wanted to upgrade to 4 or maybe 8GB. Not happening. The motherboard was not equipped. So after finding this out the hard way, I just figured fuck it, the memory was about $100 and a new "all in one" computer was $500 and had good reviews, I returned the memory and bought the computer.

So "Cortana" opens your initial session on the computer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cortana

"She's" nice and helpful and yes, it is "cool" to just talk to your new computer. But I partitioned and tossed Linux onto it forthwith as I have done since 2000 (which was a chore and a half this time because of no understanding of EFI, UEFI or Legacy boot modes -- it took a few hours).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified_E ... _Interface

But once running Linux and tuning the various behaviors I want I noted that the microphone was always on. It was blipping with my breathing and probably automobile traffic outside. I don't know if I could have found this out on a quick scan of the system using MSFT.

Yeah, we're being listened to.

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Re: The Creepiness That is Alexa/Siri/Google: voice assistan

Postby Pele'sDaughter » Thu May 24, 2018 10:40 am

http://amp.kiro7.com/www.kiro7.com/news ... ntent=news

A Portland family contacted Amazon to investigate after they say a private conversation in their home was recorded by Amazon's Alexa -- the voice-controlled smart speaker -- and that the recorded audio was sent to the phone of a random person in Seattle, who was in the family’s contact list.

"My husband and I would joke and say I'd bet these devices are listening to what we're saying," said Danielle, who did not want us to use her last name.

Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home's heat, lights and security system.

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. "The person on the other line said, 'unplug your Alexa devices right now,'" she said. "'You're being hacked.'"

That person was one of her husband's employees, calling from Seattle.

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she said. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) said 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us.'"

Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn't believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

"I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"

Danielle says she unplugged all the devices, and she repeatedly called Amazon. She says an Alexa engineer investigated.

"They said 'our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry.' He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!"

But Danielle says the engineer did not provide specifics about why it happened, or if it's a widespread issue.

"He told us that the device just guessed what we were saying," she said. Danielle said the device did not audibly advise her it was preparing to send the recording, something it’s programmed to do.

When KIRO 7 asked Amazon questions, they sent this response:

“Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future."

Amazon offered to “de-provision” Danielle’s Alexa communications so she could keep using its Smart Home Features. But Danielle is hoping Amazon gives her a refund for her devices, which she said their representatives have been unwilling to do. She says she’s curious to find out if anyone else has experienced the same issue.

"A husband and wife in the privacy of their home have conversations that they're not expecting to be sent to someone (in) their address book," she said.
Don't believe anything they say.
And at the same time,
Don't believe that they say anything without a reason.
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