Amazon and Google Are Labelled as Trojan Horses
Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) and Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)—also known as Google—are two powerful companies that started out of a garage. Today, both companies are said to be spying on people around the world through home devices—which has been proven to be true.
Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit organization looking out for the consumer, has looked into the matter and has discovered that both Amazon and Google are spying on their artificial intelligence (AI) assistant users and are using the information they find to benefit their bottom lines.
Amazon offers two products in this segment of the market: the “Echo” device and and the “Alexa” service. Google, on the other hand, have what is known as “Google Home” and “Google Assistant.”
These products are personal assistants that interact like human beings with their users through voice interactions. Other features include music playback, making to-do lists, receiving various news updates in real time (weather, traffic, sports, etc.), streaming podcasts, and playing audio books.
Simply put, these devices are smart computers that become part of the user’s life. As an end result, the smart products gain a lot of information about its users.
How Do Amazon and Google Spy on Their Users?
The more information that Amazon and Google have about their customers, the more successful they are in selling their own products and services (or those of companies they have deals with).
Let’s take Amazon as an example: they sell various products, from diapers to books and everything in between. Alexa and Echo offer the ability to the user of storing data such as do-to-lists. This then results in Amazon gaining information about the user. When the time comes for the user to purchase goods, Amazon will intervene and suggest that the purchase be done through its e-commerce web site. Or there is the possibility of making the purchase through the device, with no need to input data.
Now, this does sounds very convenient for the user of the smart device product. However, the device will be gaining information about its users’ behavior and will study what products are used. Eventually, the device will start to recommend products to purchase, based on prior purchases. This will help Amazon maintain and grow its market share and benefit its bottom line.
Additionally, even when the device is off or you are having a private conversation at home, it will pick up and record the details of what was said. The device even hears when you flush the toilet or discuss what you are planning to have for dinner.
Google works in the same manner: offer the product and save all the data that is given by the user.
Why Would Google and Amazon Want to Spy on Its Users?
There are two reasons why both these companies would want to spy on their users: 1) gain information and 2) generate sales.
In regards to information, the goal is to create individual profiles for the voices that are picked up. With Amazon, for example, the profiles would be gained through purchases made through Amazon.com, podcasts played, and news alerts. Since Amazon can easily track your buying habits online, the tracking is already known by the purchasers of the products.
This is where things become much more concerning. Let’s say a podcast is played; the personal device may suggest a book or a related product to purchase. Or, if you are receiving updates on a specific sport, there will be products suggested that are related to a team or league.
Google also works to gain as much information as possible about its user base. The intent is to advertise to the user as close as possible to their interests.
Google also sells other home smart devices, such as “Nest,” which controls the temperatures of the home. When Google Home and Nest are in one home, it gives Google the ability to record the usage through the Home device. This is even more concerning, because Google has signed deals with insurance and utility companies to use the smart devices to monitor customers’ homes. (Source: “Google and Amazon really DO want to spy on you: Patent reveals future versions of their voice assistants will record your conversations to sell you products,” Mail Online, December 18, 2017.)
Google also has the ability the monitor when lights are turned off or on in a home. This gives the ability of knowing when the user is sleeping, or which room in the home they are located. This again allows Google to target the user with advertising.
Will There Be Changes Occurring?
According to Consumer Watchdog, recent patent applications reveal that Amazon and Google are looking to get even more access to the personal information of the users of their devices.
The patent applications reveal that the devices will be on all the time, even when users believe that the device is turned off. The devices would record private conversations that were meant to remain behind closed doors. (Source: “Home Assistant Adopter Beware: Consumer Watchdog Warns Google, Amazon Digital Assistant Patents Reveal Plans for Massive Snooping,”PR Newswire, December 13, 2017.)
Also, the devices will be able to connect to other devices in the home that are able to connect to the Internet. The companies will then gain access to the habits of all users in the house. Through this, Echo, Alexa, Google Home, and Google Assistant will know information such as meals eaten, travel plans, and even daily schedules. This, therefore, would not give any privacy to the end users.
One example of a Google patent is for a product that would suggest activities and interests that family members are likely to purchase or join. For instance, if a 15-year-old boy is caught on camera holding a basketball in the home, sports camps related to basketball will be advertised.
The changes occurring are going to be more in favor of the companies than the consumers.
Why Does This Matter?
Yes, all this spying would make life easier, but these companies are gaining valuable and personal information about their users in order to generate profits and benefit shareholders. Also, these devices enable companies to share their users’ information with other companies.
In the end, these companies could use the information as leverage. This simply means that Amazon and Google would have so much information about its users that they could end up controlling their user bases. It could then result in users following the rules that are made up by these tech giants. Also, these companies would try to influence the behavior of their users by targeting certain advertisements, which again benefits the companies’ bottom lines.