Silicon Valley: Every click you make…we’ll be watching you

Image: South Park.

Most people in the West are appalled by China’s creepy “social credit” system whereby it continually spies on its citizens and rewards them for behaviour the communist state deems desirable but punishes them for anything it dislikes. This is Mao’s wet dream. In his day, the Party forced its citizens to personally list, not only everyone they were related to or acquainted with, but write down all their “negative thoughts”. The message was clear: your personal information can and will be used against you.

We’re much more sophisticated and freedom-loving here in the West, though, surely? Think again. The only difference between us and the Chinese is that we’re consensually handing over everything to the same private corporations who are busily un-personing everyone from Paul Joseph Watson to Tommy Robinson. Quote:

Bugging our homes is Silicon Valley’s next frontier.

Many smart-speaker owners don’t realise it, but Amazon keeps a copy of everything Alexa records after it hears its name. Apple’s Siri, and until recently Google’s Assistant, by default also keep recordings to help train their artificial intelligences.

So come with me on an unwelcome walk down memory lane. I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of “Downton Abbey”. There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal…It’s easy to rationalise away concerns by thinking a single smart speaker or appliance couldn’t know enough to matter. But across the increasingly connected home, there’s a brazen data grab going on, and there are few regulations, watchdogs or common-sense practices to keep it in check.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Facebook in our smart homes. Any personal data that’s collected can and will be used against us. An obvious place to begin: Alexa, stop recording us. End of quote.

Remember: it’s actually illegal in many places like Australia to record someone without their knowledge or consent. Yet that’s exactly what the robber barons of Silicon Valley are doing.


Asemblyman Jordan Cunningham…told me. “Welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism.”

Inspired by what I found in my Alexa voice archive, I wondered: What other activities in my smart home are tech companies recording?

I found enough personal data to make even the East German secret police blush.

When I’m up for a midnight snack, Google knows. My Nest thermostat, made by Google, reports back to its servers data in 15-minute increments about not only the climate in my house, but also whether there’s anyone moving around (as determined by a presence sensor used to trigger the heat). You can delete your account, but otherwise Nest saves it indefinitely.

Then there are lights, which can reveal what time you go to bed and do almost anything else. My Philips Hue-connected lights track every time they’re switched on and off – data the company keeps forever if you connect to its cloud service (which is required to operate them with Alexa or Assistant).

Every kind of appliance now is becoming a data-collection device. My Chamberlain MyQ garage opener lets the company keep – again, indefinitely – a record of every time my door opens or closes. My Sonos speakers, by default, track what albums, playlists or stations I’ve listened to, and when I press play, pause, skip or pump up the volume…And now the craziest part: After quizzing these companies about data practices, I learned most are sharing what’s happening in my home with Amazon, too. Our data is the price of entry for devices that want to integrate with Alexa. Amazon’s not only eavesdropping – it’s tracking everything happening in your home. End of quote.


You think you’ve private lives

Think nothing of the kind

There is no true escape

I’m watching all the time

Judas Priest

Even the Zuck tapes the camera on his laptop, no doubt to forestall extortionists who might hack into it and record footage of him maybe getting freaky to a little Pornhub.

But there’s a simple way to think about this: would you allow an employee of, say, Woolworths, Fonterra or Air New Zealand sit in the corner of your living room, recording everything you say and do?

If not, then why on earth would you let Alexa or Siri do the same?