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To Alexa or Not?

After a 2-year head start, Amazon's Echo product finally has the deployed competitors of its rivals vying to make their way into our homes: the Google Home (last year) and the Apple HomePod (just a few months ago).  Despite the fact that Siri, invented by Apple, kickstarted the voice-activated assistant craze, it is Amazon's first mover advantage that has allowed it to dominate and define this space, yet another of the diverse fields it plays a major role in.  Yet, it seems the question isn't if we will get one of these devices into our homes, but when.

Advantages

The advantages run from basic to advanced.  Of course you can ask these devices to play music for you, set a timer, answer basic questions, whether you're cooking ("how many cups in a pint?") or doing homework ("what year did the Spanish Armada sail?").  You can even ask it to make a call, dim your lights, or control your thermostat.  She can read the news, weather, or traffic to you as you brush your teeth or make your breakfast.  There's an ever-increasing "skills" library (think apps, but for voice) for all three of these platforms that can do things like:

  • order an Uber, Lyft, pizza, or flowers
  • tune a guitar
  • search for flights

Disadvantages

You might reasonably ask, "With all these advantages, what's the problem?"  As with any advance in technology, there is a price to be paid.  The wholesale importation of these devices into our homes is the end of the illusion of any privacy whatsoever.  All of the devices are listening to you at all times, day or night, and the manufacturers of them state as much.  One of the new Amazon Echos, the Look, even has a camera installed.

A recent NPR story detailed how one couple had a conversation recorded and unwittingly sent to one of their contacts, who was kind enough to call them and tell them what was happening.  Technology will have its glitches, but this is a fundamental change of behavior and is an admission to the companies involved in making the products that we as a society will do anything to make our lives easier.  This is to say nothing of the jaw-dropping coup of a company having you pay for a product to install in your home to make it easier for you to buy things from them.

Do we really mean what we say?

In the last decade there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of high-level security breaches involving our personal data and information.  In those days, information that was leaked included bank information, passwords, and addresses.  Then phone data began to be leaked and photos and videos were added.  Now we are adding an always-on recording device to the list of things that can be hacked.  Americans have frequently voiced concerns about privacy in polls, but their buying behavior seems to indicate the opposite.  It's not a question of right or wrong, it's a question of privacy or not.  It's clear that with Alexa and her sisters in our lives, it's the latter.

Do you have one of these products in your home?  Why or why not?  Share with us in the comments below to receive a free single shine service (something Alexa can't do for you) the next time you visit one of our clubs.

Ben Davis

About Ben Davis

A serial entrepreneur, Ben Davis is founder of The Gents Place and a leading investor in gentlemen's refinement and confidence.

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