Outrageous Behavior By 'Alexa'?
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2018-05-31 13:27 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 151 references Ignore this thread
Outrageous Behavior By 'Alexa'?*
[Comments enabled]

There's a story making the rounds that appears to have some corroboration at this point, but my sourcing is too thin (and specific to people) to document.

Apparently if you bought an "Alexa" and activated it you can wind up with an un-asked for Prime subscription and it can wind up linked to some other card you have out there that Amazon managed to get their claws on.

Of course some people won't care because their entire point of buying one of these "Smart speaker" things is to link it with Prime for their "shopping" purposes.  Well, ok, but whatever happened to informed consent?

There might well be, somewhere, one of those "buying this will subscribe you to X at price Y" deals somewhere in the fine print on the startup or registration page.  In fact I wouldn't doubt it if it's there somewhere, maybe in the "click-through" terms and conditions that nobody actually clicks through and reads the entirety of.

My question is why is this sort of thing happening at all?

Let's be real here: These so-called "smart speakers" are anything but.  They aren't "smart", they're pattern-recognition devices and you're the pattern.  They're linked to "the cloud" because the CPU, RAM and similar requirement to run voice recognition is quite high but extremely bursty since you only give the unit a command once in a long while; the rest of the time it is either idle or (and you hope it's not!) simply recording what it hears.  Putting the capability for fast, decently-accurate response in the unit when it would be active 0.1% of the time at most is why these devices are all "cloud-powered"; they would be stupid-expensive if not.

But these things don't exist for your benefit, they exist for someone else's benefit.  If you want to know what sort of imagery gets conjured in my mind when I hear of people installing and using them it's from the first part of WALL-E..... you know, this one.

Yeah.

That looks appealing.

Not.

Heh, I get it.  You like convenience.  So do I.  I like being able to see what's going on in my house, even if I'm not there, especially if I get alerted to something sketchy going on.  After all that video evidence is useful for the cops to prosecute someone with if they try stealing my stereo.  I like sitting in the bar, pushing a button, and having the hottub ready for me when I get home a half-hour later.  That's convenient.  And I like knowing with hard confirmation that I really did remember to close the damned garage door on the way out.  Peace of mind and all that.

But all of this nonsense in today's world seems to be centered around not your convenience and security, but rather someone else mining your data for profit, not telling you what they're doing with it, or even lying about when they collect it, for what purpose they use it, and who gets access to it.

In our world of today we don't jail executives for that sort of crap.  We should, but we don't.

I get the limitations as well. But what I don't get is the insane price ripoffs that come with it, never mind the privacy and data security implications, especially when you bring something like this into your house or, even worse, your bedroom.

For an example price out a "NEST" thermostat.  You'll blanch.  For half the price I can buy a Z-wave enabled thermostat from Trane.  You probably heard of them -- they make air conditioners and heating systems and have a decades-long history of building high-quality, reliable gear.  It doesn't need "connectivity" to work; it's a thermostat.  Indeed, the one on the left at that link is the one I have in my house.  Oh, and it monitors service intervals too (e.g. for your filters), which is nice -- and you can set them to suit the level of general dust and such in your environment.  But, you can talk to it over Z-Wave and both see what's going on and control it if you want to.

Like, for example, right here:

 

That's real-time, right now, and if I tap it I can change the temperature it's set for.  HomeDaemon-MCP has an outdoor temperature sensor and switches its mode automatically; there's no need to be in "auto" or "heat" mode around here for half the year or more; if it's 70+F outside you won't want heat!  But in the "middle seasons" it's nice to have it automatically switch between the two because there might actually be a reason for that, and in many other parts of the country (especially at higher elevations) where temperature swings of 30-40F are not uncommon during a single 24 hour period it's very useful.

Someone who buys HomeDaemon-MCP and stands up the business to retail it could easily sell the entire package including the controller, a software license and the thermostat for the same sort of money as one "Nest."  But what you'd get is not just a thermostat in that case -- it can run your entire house at the cost of simply adding more modules that are reasonably priced.

Want a camera too?  Nest wants $200 for them.  What?

Amcrest wants $81 for an indoor camera with double the resolution!  If you're happy with the same 1080p that Nest offers and shop around you can get 'em for about $60, or less than a third of the price.

Instead of demanding you use a "cloud" service which inherently means no security as the data is not yours and is being stored and transmitted to a big company that might use it for "whatever" (good luck proving it if they do and you'll need an act of God to hold them accountable if you catch them either doing so or someone hacks it and uses it to target your house for a break-inwith HomeDaemon-MCP only you ever have the data, your cameras can be 100% firewalled from the outside so they cannot speak in or out beyond the perimeter of your network directly and yet you can have access to both snapshots (which you can have it take when it sees movement, etc) and real-time, streaming video any time you'd like over a high-grade encrypted connection from anywhere.

Oh, and the second camera isn't another $200+ either -- or $300 if you want one in an outside-rated enclosure!

With a couple of motion sensors and a garage door sensor (magnetic) you can set it up so that the camera automatically points at the wall when you're home (for the paranoid), when you leave it "arms" itself and points at the room, and if there's motion seen without the "authorized" path being taken (e.g. opening your legitimate garage door with the button in your car) you get alerted immediately so you can grab a video or screen shot for the police. 

What the hell is wrong with people?  Do you really want a copy of video of your house to be in someone's cloud machine ever?  Think about it folks -- we're talking about data that if some malefactor gets ahold of it and pattern-matches it they can figure out if you're home, when you're home, when you go to work and when you're on vacation!

Why the hell would you want that data anywhere except on your premise and on your personal device on demand only and delivered only over a secure connection if it ever leaves your home at all?

Never mind that it's better, faster and cheaper to do it that way.

So who wants to make a billion dollars?  The ask for the entire package will never be lower than it is now; there is exactly one thing needed to deploy it commercially and that's a customer-facing web interface to automate the certificate keying the license system uses.  The code to actually use those certificates and enforce them is already in the package as is the server side which can hit a Postgres instance (in other words nearly-infinitely scaleable and easily extended as you may wish.)

Is there actually a desire to sell products and services to people any longer that are theirs, that deliver value to the customer, or has everything turned into a scheme to data-mine you, get you to pay two, three, five or ten times as much for less functionality and try to stick you with a recurring bill you can't opt out of without turning your investment into dust?  Adobe anyone?

If you want to be that guy or gal that disrupts this space, look to the right and email me.

The answer to the problem is ready to go -- right here, right now.

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