Hearing without listening

I\’m not a fan of the ubiquitous listening devices. Not that having a virtual assistant always on the standby to serve my every (ok, some) need wouldn\’t be handy; it would be fun to be talk to my house. Seriously, I work from home. It gets lonely. But I digress.

It\’s because of the growing interconnectedness of it all, combined with lax privacy laws and inadequate digital security. They *say* they\’re only listening for your action word, but the Ts&Cs prove otherwise; as do recent legal events when it\’s been shown that not only are they always listening, but always recording.

And the Amazons and Googles of the world will eventually be more than happy to sell your conversations to advertisers and others (yes, government – I\’m looking at you. Who knows if  my recent (theoretical) conversations about microdosing LSD won\’t some day be of interest to you, or the health insurance companies.)

So I recently revisited a favorite device, launched in 2005 (the ice age for digital devices). I  was rather obsessed with it at the time, but didn\’t take the plunge  and have been sorry ever since.

\"karotz\"It\’s called a Nabaztag (rabbit in Armenian!). It was a listening device that wasn\’t tied to any multinational conglomerate; it was an open source device that read your emails to you, the weather, stock market report, news, RSS-Feeds, MP3-Streams, acted as a walkie-talkie with another Nabaztag, and a few other things.

Point is: it did much of what Alexa and Siri do (other than order you things, although someone could probably program an app for it that would) without reporting back to anyone.

A device way before its time. And completely open source.

Why aren\’t there any of these types of listening devices on the market now? Surely some independent company out there could come up with a current day equivalent? I bet it would sell like hotcakes – what an opportunity. I know I\’d get one.


And then kit it out like people used to do with the Nabaztags 😊 The viral potential for getting the word out about something like this is incredible.

Unfortunately I\’m reduced to scouring Ebay for the occasional one that comes up for sale, and since the server\’s been decommissioned, turning into a programmer to make it work (although there\’s a very lively worldwide community of hackers/enthusiasts with a fair number of boards sharing code and \”how to\’s\”). And that takes a LOT of time.

Someone get on this. Please.

The future is listening

\"\"The future of tracking is rapidly approaching; and it will be tied to and integrated with all the home smart devices. Does this truly benefit you, as the consumer? The stated \”benefit\” is more targeted advertising (is this really a benefit?).

This article from the New York Times (briefly) explores how \”Samba TV\” is being integrated into smart televisions (with 90% of users opting in after a brief statement saying it will \”help recommend shows and provides special offers by cleverly recognizing onscreen content.”)

Once enabled, it tracks nearly everything that appears on your TV screen (from any input – tv, streaming content, games) on a second-by-second basis. Because it can monitor content from any internet-based source, it knows your meta consumption data, not just the information Google knows from your browser based behavior, or your cable provider from which TV shows you watch, or Netflix which knows from your choices. The tracking goes across all of these, and more.

Always listening devices don\’t currently use your television screen as an output device, but what if they combine voice recognition with the content from those \”always on\” listening, applies AI to it so that it intelligently understands and ties together what you\’re saying + what content you\’re consuming? It\’s not a big leap to that.

And will it be used for more nefarious means? The US government has recently stated that it intends to keep track of, and create a database of journalists, bloggers and social media influencers (trouble makers, all!).

Personally I hesitate strongly to bring any listening or smart devices into my home. But I\’m afraid I\’m fighting a losing battle, because ultimately every device will be \”smart\” and I won\’t be able to get any that aren\’t.

Where is the outrage over digital privacy, and ownership?  People seems to be welcoming these devices in with open arms (90% opt in at setup?!) with nary a thought to who\’s listening, what data is being collected, access to what companies know about them, and what it\’s being used for.

If the recent public outcry (however brief) over Cambridge Analytica and what personal data is collected, and can be used for isn\’t triggering any mass protests, what will?

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