Law in the Internet Society

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LaraNurickFirstEssay 6 - 01 Apr 2018 - Main.EbenMoglen
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 Whilst there are clearly fundamental breaches of privacy that must be addressed as consumers ought to have the right to determine the use of their information, for example by implementing rules that safeguard a holistic view of privacy comprised of secrecy, anonymity and autonomy rights, the urgent problem seems to be that of both consumers' and lawmakers' technological ignorance. Unless people are able to understand these products and recognize that they are merely part of a deliberately designed organism for behavior collection, the power of these companies and their machines over people will be unwavering, and the effect of rules and regulations misguided and ineffective.
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I think this was a very effective set of revisions along the lines my comments on the last draft suggested. It vindicates both your original choices and the modifications I thought would make improvement, which they do.

At the end of the process, it should be clear, you have explicitly identified an educational deficit which is also the act of learning we are performing together. That should imply the possibility of further learning for other people. It should also imply the possibility of your being part of the relationships that teach them. So if there were to be a further set of revisions in your thinking, whether or not in this essay form, they might center around how you can—to offer a recent cliche—be the change you want to see in the world.

 
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LaraNurickFirstEssay 5 - 01 Apr 2018 - Main.LaraNurick
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Ideal environment for misuse of power

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At a time when government, law enforcement and private businesses are preoccupied with ascertaining people's identities and predicting behaviors, information concerning who someone is, how they relate to other people and to whom they may be connected becomes incredibly valuable. It is therefore unsurprising that they find these data-collection businesses attractive. It follows that the companies collecting such data, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, are prone to redirecting the information they gather beyond their private hands. Indeed, as Moglen and Choudhary identify, "the mere collection of all that information about billions of people in a few hands ensures that it will be misused".
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At a time when government, law enforcement and private businesses are preoccupied with ascertaining people's identities and predicting behaviors, information concerning who someone is, how they relate to other people and to whom they may be connected becomes incredibly valuable. It is therefore unsurprising that they find these data-collection businesses attractive. It follows that the companies collecting such data, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, are prone to redirecting the information they gather beyond their private hands. This is evidenced by information request reports (eg. Facebook and Amazon). Indeed, as Moglen and Choudhary identify, "the mere collection of all that information about billions of people in a few hands ensures that it will be misused".
 This misuse is facilitated on the premise of ignorant consumer consent. As Boughman observes, consumers "agree to sacrifice some degree of privacy to enrich the user experience" for convenience. This is done on the basis that consumers' information will be used to "improve the quality of the product or service" (eg. Facebook and Amazon's privacy policies). However, as this term is never fully defined, the limits to which this information can be used are unclear. Due to this consent - albeit misguided - and the identity-driven nature of the information, the Fourth Amendment, which attaches to people's reasonable expectation of privacy in their persons, houses, papers and effects from unreasonable search, offers limited, if any, protection vis--vis searching of identities.

LaraNurickFirstEssay 4 - 31 Mar 2018 - Main.LaraNurick
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"Alexa, ..."

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Technological ignorance

 
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-- By LaraNurick - 01 Nov 2017
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The problem

 
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The problem for me and like-minded people in my generation, is that we consume technology ignorantly. Power preys on ignorance, making us the ideal target market. Indeed, I see a product, whether it be Facebook, an iPhone or a digital assistant, and believe that I am buying or subscribing to the product that I can see. I use it, and continue to use it, because it is convenient and because transitioning out of using it seems highly inconvenient. This convenience is directly tied to the immense volumes of data that these products have gathered about me as they offer me what they know I will like and want. Meanwhile, my technological ignorance maintains my distance from the complexity and power of the software behind these technologies, which I cannot see or understand.
 
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Introduction

 
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I recently witnessed an apparently endless line of people waiting for free giveaways of the newly launched Google Home Mini ‘Digital Assistant’ (‘DA’). The current proliferation of DAs, from Amazon’s Echo, (which goes by ‘Alexa’), to Apple’s HomePod? ,
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Piercing the veil

 
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Still vaporware, delayed again, is it not? Insanely great, to be, one day, it is. No doubt?
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With the benefit of this class, the Cambridge Analytica episode and heightened scrutiny, I have come to understand that such products, if they can be called products, are used to mask their makers' real business: the business of gathering data about me, and the majority of consumers who are like me, through our behavioral interactions with these technologies. As this data is the prized aspect of this system, we effectively become these businesses' real asset and product. It is the invisibility of this effort; what Daniel Norman describes as the "bur[ying of] the technology [so] that the user is not even aware of its presence", that perpetuates ignorance, cements a structure of power, and belies the truth that the end-consumer-facing-product is merely a means to an end.
 
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Ideal environment for misuse of power

 
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provoked me to question the impact of DAs on humanity, specifically on behavior, privacy and agency.
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At a time when government, law enforcement and private businesses are preoccupied with ascertaining people's identities and predicting behaviors, information concerning who someone is, how they relate to other people and to whom they may be connected becomes incredibly valuable. It is therefore unsurprising that they find these data-collection businesses attractive. It follows that the companies collecting such data, like Google, Facebook and Amazon, are prone to redirecting the information they gather beyond their private hands. Indeed, as Moglen and Choudhary identify, "the mere collection of all that information about billions of people in a few hands ensures that it will be misused".
 
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This misuse is facilitated on the premise of ignorant consumer consent. As Boughman observes, consumers "agree to sacrifice some degree of privacy to enrich the user experience" for convenience. This is done on the basis that consumers' information will be used to "improve the quality of the product or service" (eg. Facebook and Amazon's privacy policies). However, as this term is never fully defined, the limits to which this information can be used are unclear. Due to this consent - albeit misguided - and the identity-driven nature of the information, the Fourth Amendment, which attaches to people's reasonable expectation of privacy in their persons, houses, papers and effects from unreasonable search, offers limited, if any, protection vis--vis searching of identities.
 
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DAs

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The basis for ignorance

 
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DAs are voice controlled, cloud-based speakers which use on-device keyword spotting. DAs are activated by wake words, upon which they act and then resume their sleep. Common uses include setting timers, alarms, appointments, calling or messaging, playing music and games, checking weather and traffic, making shopping lists and purchases as well as controlling the rapidly increasing third-party smart home appliances with compatible software. Since Amazon, the market leader, first released its Echo in 2014, its capabilities and user base have continually expanded. Last week, CEO Jeff Bezos claimed, “customers have purchased tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices…and active customers are up more than 5x since the same time last year”. Approximately 35.6 million Americans use a DA, with Gartner projecting a quarter of all household requests will use DAs by 2019.
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The success of these products' disguise and the maintenance of consumers' ignorance is common irrespective of their physical manifestations. Indeed, whether it be Facebook, the iPhone or digital assistants, the buried business model of behavior collection remains constant. All products effectively veil this ignorance through an appeal to human emotion rather than intellect, a constant demand for human attention and capitalizing on convenience.
 
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What's at stake?

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In terms of convenience, all of these technologies centralize disparate services, thereby making life easier. They also use the information they receive to personalize your experience and present information they know will demand that consumer's particular attention. Their emotional appeal is obtained via the humanization of the technology to make it responsive and emotionally engaging. While the "endless flow of attention-seeking 'content'" demands initial interaction, the fact that the interaction is felt by the technology and is acknowledged or validated through its response in emitting stimuli, encourages further engagement. Thus, a cycle of engagement is created that secures maximum human interaction and behavior-collection opportunities. Whilst this occurs on Facebook predominantly through the power of the Like as people Like to feel liked, thereby keeping them connected to Facebook, Amazon's more recent Alexa seems to take this humanization even further. Indeed, as Romano notes, "Amazon has gone to great pains to present Alexa as a persona, if not an actual person…[with] personality". By having people "talk to a machine like it's a she and having "her" talk back", Alexa carries on the illusion, perpetuates ignorance, and most importantly, masks "what is still very much an 'it'" - a data-collection device for a highly profitable company. Thus, ultimately the invisibility of these companies' data-collection efforts, and the techniques employed to achieve this invisibility, ensure consumers' ignorance and enables this ulterior motive.
 
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Behaviour

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Way forward

 
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Using technology to mediate and action basic human needs is fundamentally altering human interaction. As Sherry Turkle warns, it conditions us to “expect more from technology and less from each other”. Whilst DAs’ hands-free centralized control is highly convenient and may benefit the disabled and the elderly; children’s behavior may be at risk. Although children enjoy the speedy access to information and available games along with the simulated company of DAs, research suggests the impact of increasing mediated interaction and the DAs’ lack of emotional intelligence may promote the use of simplistic language and inquiry, bad manners, compromised adult-child communication along with the need for instant gratification. DAs value simple clear diction over niceties and patience, potentially leading children to adopt similar behavior in all interactions.
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Irrespective of the precise use these companies make of one's personal data, it is clear that personal information about consumers' behavior is being delivered beyond the company or sold onto outside third parties. Even just the potential for profit-motivated companies to decide how to use such data, when as Aral Balkan observes, "data about us is us", is problematic and illustrates consumers' relative powerlessness. This is exacerbated by the fact that these companies are taking significant steps to deliberately hide what they are doing, which enables the perpetuation of ignorance.
 
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Potentially. But children adeptly speak different languages with different persons, which might also "potentially" mean that they will use machine-speak with machines, as my high-school French teacher in his childhood spoke French with his parents, German with his nursemaid, and Russian with the cook. And these "natural language" voicebrowsing products will grow up too, right? Hinging our long-term analysis on the current state of the software is likely to result in the obsolescence of the analysis before the replacement of the product.
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Whilst there are clearly fundamental breaches of privacy that must be addressed as consumers ought to have the right to determine the use of their information, for example by implementing rules that safeguard a holistic view of privacy comprised of secrecy, anonymity and autonomy rights, the urgent problem seems to be that of both consumers' and lawmakers' technological ignorance. Unless people are able to understand these products and recognize that they are merely part of a deliberately designed organism for behavior collection, the power of these companies and their machines over people will be unwavering, and the effect of rules and regulations misguided and ineffective.
 
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Privacy

 
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Amazon’s Echo comprises two speakers, seven microphones and omnidirectional audio. When it detects its wake word ‘Alexa’, it streams what it hears as well as the fraction of a second beforehand to the cloud. This is troublesome because this information likely contains fragmentary intimate conversation which cumulatively may reveal significant information from within the most private of places; the home. While the Fourth Amendment historically provides the idea of an inviolate home, the controversial third-party doctrine suggests that one’s privacy may be overridden when one voluntarily shares information from inside the home with a third-party corporation. This was discussed following James Bates’ murder trial where police requested DAs’ recordings for the first time. While Amazon initially refused, these were eventually given up consensually, precipitating unresolved privacy questions. As DAs prevalence proliferates, moot questions arise regarding the operation of state law and the use of DA recordings where unknowing guests may be recorded, especially in states that require both parties consent for recordings. This issue is exacerbated by companies’ efforts to camouflage DAs within one’s home decor by improving their appearance, possibly making users even less aware of their potential intrusion. Bates’ case therefore highlights DAs’ potential to exploit owners and their invitees. It also confirms that companies like Amazon retain data indefinitely. Although deletion of information is possible on DAs, it is strongly discouraged as it “may degrade your Alexa experience” since DAs “get better over time” by processing speech, timbre and accents. For the majority of purchasers of DAs for convenience, deletion is counter to optimization and seems unviable. Moreover, manually turning a DA off fundamentally undermines its ‘beck-and-call’ utility. This compromise of privacy and agency for convenience may prove too high a tradeoff.
 
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Really? Sending the servants out of the room and regulating one's speech "devant les enfants" has been convenient enough for the last several thousand years.
 
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Notably, whilst devices like smartphones and apps like Facebook, FaceTime? and Skype already impinge on the private domain of the home, these differ in that they are not permanent fixtures in the home, are not necessarily always on, require more deliberate engagement and active "interfacing with a screen" and do not automatically impact their non-immediate users and surroundings. Additionally, whereas the privacy implications of DAs are still largely unknown and spoken conversation is not yet as self-conscious as written communication, there is greater public awareness of the privacy compromises entailed in using these other services.
 
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Surveillance

 
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With the increasing use of DAs and corresponding fast paced product development, their potential capacity for surveillance appears limitless. Whereas first generation Echos had rudimentary voice capabilities, the recent Echo Look is a fashion assistant that is placed in the consumer’s most intimate closet or bathroom. It has inbuilt “hands-free camera, built-in LED, depth-sensing and computer vision-based background”. DAs now have “a brain, an ear and an eye”.
 
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Moreover, DAs are always alert, enabling them to register their wake words. While companies insist this is passive, non-transmitting listening, the recent Google Home Mini incident, whereby the device recorded and transmitted everything it heard persistently due to defective touch-sensitive panels, demonstrates the precariousness of this always-on state and its potential for company/government/hacker exploitation. This evidences DAs’ technical sensitivity and inbuilt recording capability and the ease with which through a software update, physical exploit or glitch, the device transforms beyond consumers’ control.
 
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Agency

If DAs perform human tasks, are privy to and participate in human conversation and punctuate daily behaviors, they may soon predict human thought and action it independently. This is troublesome. The more capable and humanized the machine becomes the more DAs will be embedded in the human psyche. This reliance on the machine by humans, who are traditionally defined by their capacity for independent thought and responsive action, paradoxically increases the chances of a role reversal whereby the consumer becomes consumed by the machine.

Given Aral Balkan’s observation that “data about us is us” as it can reveal everything about us, the potential issues with, and capabilities of DAs are problematic. Profit-motivated companies must ultimately decide how to use such data. This data allows them to make use of and influence the users’ behavior, thereby depriving humans of their agency and giving DAs a life of their own.

The most interesting avenue for improvement here, in my opinion, begins by rewriting to eliminate the metonymy, the container for the thing contained, that dominates the essay now. The object, the "DA," is just another dense sensor aggregation, a device for collecting behavior, like the phone and (soon) the car. You are talking about the meaning of the tentacle with the eyeballs and the eardrums on the end of it, as though the rest of the organism---and most importantly the intelligence in it created by the software you can't see, read or understand---didn't exist. This isn't "Alexa," or "Echo," it's Amazon, which is to the Machine overall what KGB was to the Soviet Union: an organization for creating and protecting a structure of power. (Not for nothing were and are such entities referred to as "organs" [of state security].)

If you want to work with me next semester, we can discuss the Fourth Amendment aspects of this arrangement more closely. For the moment, however, the State is a bystander to the metabolic relation between humans and this other entity, whose sense organs are being "behaviorally implanted" throughout the human world. Power arrangements are being remade. Concentrating on what has already happened means treating the things with appropriate disrespect: they are mere anatomical details. Understanding the elephant is not necessarily advanced by thinking of the spy satellite at the end of its trunk as "Bob," or "Alexa," or Carol, Ted and Alice altogether. That humanizes, deliberately, what it is crucial to experience fully as not-human.

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LaraNurickFirstEssay 3 - 03 Dec 2017 - Main.EbenMoglen
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Introduction

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I recently witnessed an apparently endless line of people waiting for free giveaways of the newly launched Google Home Mini ‘Digital Assistant’ (‘DA’). The current proliferation of DAs, from Amazon’s Echo, (which goes by ‘Alexa’), to Apple’s HomePod? , provoked me to question the impact of DAs on humanity, specifically on behavior, privacy and agency.
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I recently witnessed an apparently endless line of people waiting for free giveaways of the newly launched Google Home Mini ‘Digital Assistant’ (‘DA’). The current proliferation of DAs, from Amazon’s Echo, (which goes by ‘Alexa’), to Apple’s HomePod? ,

Still vaporware, delayed again, is it not? Insanely great, to be, one day, it is. No doubt?

provoked me to question the impact of DAs on humanity, specifically on behavior, privacy and agency.

 

DAs

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 Using technology to mediate and action basic human needs is fundamentally altering human interaction. As Sherry Turkle warns, it conditions us to “expect more from technology and less from each other”. Whilst DAs’ hands-free centralized control is highly convenient and may benefit the disabled and the elderly; children’s behavior may be at risk. Although children enjoy the speedy access to information and available games along with the simulated company of DAs, research suggests the impact of increasing mediated interaction and the DAs’ lack of emotional intelligence may promote the use of simplistic language and inquiry, bad manners, compromised adult-child communication along with the need for instant gratification. DAs value simple clear diction over niceties and patience, potentially leading children to adopt similar behavior in all interactions.
Added:
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Potentially. But children adeptly speak different languages with different persons, which might also "potentially" mean that they will use machine-speak with machines, as my high-school French teacher in his childhood spoke French with his parents, German with his nursemaid, and Russian with the cook. And these "natural language" voicebrowsing products will grow up too, right? Hinging our long-term analysis on the current state of the software is likely to result in the obsolescence of the analysis before the replacement of the product.

 

Privacy

Amazon’s Echo comprises two speakers, seven microphones and omnidirectional audio. When it detects its wake word ‘Alexa’, it streams what it hears as well as the fraction of a second beforehand to the cloud. This is troublesome because this information likely contains fragmentary intimate conversation which cumulatively may reveal significant information from within the most private of places; the home. While the Fourth Amendment historically provides the idea of an inviolate home, the controversial third-party doctrine suggests that one’s privacy may be overridden when one voluntarily shares information from inside the home with a third-party corporation. This was discussed following James Bates’ murder trial where police requested DAs’ recordings for the first time. While Amazon initially refused, these were eventually given up consensually, precipitating unresolved privacy questions. As DAs prevalence proliferates, moot questions arise regarding the operation of state law and the use of DA recordings where unknowing guests may be recorded, especially in states that require both parties consent for recordings. This issue is exacerbated by companies’ efforts to camouflage DAs within one’s home decor by improving their appearance, possibly making users even less aware of their potential intrusion. Bates’ case therefore highlights DAs’ potential to exploit owners and their invitees. It also confirms that companies like Amazon retain data indefinitely. Although deletion of information is possible on DAs, it is strongly discouraged as it “may degrade your Alexa experience” since DAs “get better over time” by processing speech, timbre and accents. For the majority of purchasers of DAs for convenience, deletion is counter to optimization and seems unviable. Moreover, manually turning a DA off fundamentally undermines its ‘beck-and-call’ utility. This compromise of privacy and agency for convenience may prove too high a tradeoff.

Added:
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Really? Sending the servants out of the room and regulating one's speech "devant les enfants" has been convenient enough for the last several thousand years.

 Notably, whilst devices like smartphones and apps like Facebook, FaceTime? and Skype already impinge on the private domain of the home, these differ in that they are not permanent fixtures in the home, are not necessarily always on, require more deliberate engagement and active "interfacing with a screen" and do not automatically impact their non-immediate users and surroundings. Additionally, whereas the privacy implications of DAs are still largely unknown and spoken conversation is not yet as self-conscious as written communication, there is greater public awareness of the privacy compromises entailed in using these other services.

Surveillance

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 If DAs perform human tasks, are privy to and participate in human conversation and punctuate daily behaviors, they may soon predict human thought and action it independently. This is troublesome. The more capable and humanized the machine becomes the more DAs will be embedded in the human psyche. This reliance on the machine by humans, who are traditionally defined by their capacity for independent thought and responsive action, paradoxically increases the chances of a role reversal whereby the consumer becomes consumed by the machine.

Given Aral Balkan’s observation that “data about us is us” as it can reveal everything about us, the potential issues with, and capabilities of DAs are problematic. Profit-motivated companies must ultimately decide how to use such data. This data allows them to make use of and influence the users’ behavior, thereby depriving humans of their agency and giving DAs a life of their own.

Added:
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The most interesting avenue for improvement here, in my opinion, begins by rewriting to eliminate the metonymy, the container for the thing contained, that dominates the essay now. The object, the "DA," is just another dense sensor aggregation, a device for collecting behavior, like the phone and (soon) the car. You are talking about the meaning of the tentacle with the eyeballs and the eardrums on the end of it, as though the rest of the organism---and most importantly the intelligence in it created by the software you can't see, read or understand---didn't exist. This isn't "Alexa," or "Echo," it's Amazon, which is to the Machine overall what KGB was to the Soviet Union: an organization for creating and protecting a structure of power. (Not for nothing were and are such entities referred to as "organs" [of state security].)

If you want to work with me next semester, we can discuss the Fourth Amendment aspects of this arrangement more closely. For the moment, however, the State is a bystander to the metabolic relation between humans and this other entity, whose sense organs are being "behaviorally implanted" throughout the human world. Power arrangements are being remade. Concentrating on what has already happened means treating the things with appropriate disrespect: they are mere anatomical details. Understanding the elephant is not necessarily advanced by thinking of the spy satellite at the end of its trunk as "Bob," or "Alexa," or Carol, Ted and Alice altogether. That humanizes, deliberately, what it is crucial to experience fully as not-human.

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LaraNurickFirstEssay 2 - 02 Nov 2017 - Main.LaraNurick
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"Alexa, ..."

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 I recently witnessed an apparently endless line of people waiting for free giveaways of the newly launched Google Home Mini ‘Digital Assistant’ (‘DA’). The current proliferation of DAs, from Amazon’s Echo, (which goes by ‘Alexa’), to Apple’s HomePod? , provoked me to question the impact of DAs on humanity, specifically on behavior, privacy and agency.
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DAs

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DAs are voice controlled, cloud-based speakers which use on-device keyword spotting. DAs are activated by wake words, upon which they act and then resume their sleep. Common uses include setting timers, alarms, appointments, calling or messaging, playing music and games, checking weather and traffic, making shopping lists and purchases as well as controlling the rapidly increasing third-party smart home appliances with compatible software. Since Amazon, the market leader, first released its Echo in 2014, its capabilities and user base have continually expanded. Last week, CEO Jeff Bezos claimed, “customers have purchased tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices…and active customers are up more than 5 times since the same time last year”. Approximately 35.6 million Americans use a DA, with Gartner projecting a quarter of all household requests will use DAs by 2019.
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DAs are voice controlled, cloud-based speakers which use on-device keyword spotting. DAs are activated by wake words, upon which they act and then resume their sleep. Common uses include setting timers, alarms, appointments, calling or messaging, playing music and games, checking weather and traffic, making shopping lists and purchases as well as controlling the rapidly increasing third-party smart home appliances with compatible software. Since Amazon, the market leader, first released its Echo in 2014, its capabilities and user base have continually expanded. Last week, CEO Jeff Bezos claimed, “customers have purchased tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices…and active customers are up more than 5x since the same time last year”. Approximately 35.6 million Americans use a DA, with Gartner projecting a quarter of all household requests will use DAs by 2019.
 

What's at stake?

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Privacy

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Amazon’s Echo comprises two speakers, seven microphones and omnidirectional audio. When it detects its wake word ‘Alexa’, it streams what it hears as well as the fraction of a second beforehand to the cloud. This is troublesome because this information likely contains fragmentary intimate conversation which cumulatively may reveal significant information from within the most private of places; the home. While the Fourth Amendment historically provides the idea of an inviolate home, the controversial third-party doctrine suggests that one’s privacy may be overridden when one voluntarily shares information from inside the home with a third-party corporation. This was discussed following James Bates’ murder trial where police requested DAs’ recordings for the first time. While Amazon initially refused, these were eventually given up consensually, precipitating unresolved privacy questions. As DAs prevalence proliferates, moot questions arise regarding the operation of state law and the use of DA recordings where unknowing guests may be recorded, especially in states that require both parties consent for recordings. This issue is exacerbated by companies’ efforts to camouflage DAs within one’s home decor by improving their appearance, possibly making users even less aware of their potential intrusion. Bates’ case therefore highlights DAs’ potential to exploit owners and their invitees. It also confirms that companies like Amazon retain data indefinitely. Although deletion of information is possible on DAs, it is strongly discouraged as it “may degrade your Alexa experience” since DAs “get better over time” by processing speech, timbre and accents. For the majority of purchasers of DAs for convenience, deletion is counter to optimization and seems unviable. Moreover, manually turning a DA off fundamentally undermines its ‘beck-and-call’ utility. This compromise of privacy and agency for convenience may prove too high a tradeoff.
>
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Amazon’s Echo comprises two speakers, seven microphones and omnidirectional audio. When it detects its wake word ‘Alexa’, it streams what it hears as well as the fraction of a second beforehand to the cloud. This is troublesome because this information likely contains fragmentary intimate conversation which cumulatively may reveal significant information from within the most private of places; the home. While the Fourth Amendment historically provides the idea of an inviolate home, the controversial third-party doctrine suggests that one’s privacy may be overridden when one voluntarily shares information from inside the home with a third-party corporation. This was discussed following James Bates’ murder trial where police requested DAs’ recordings for the first time. While Amazon initially refused, these were eventually given up consensually, precipitating unresolved privacy questions. As DAs prevalence proliferates, moot questions arise regarding the operation of state law and the use of DA recordings where unknowing guests may be recorded, especially in states that require both parties consent for recordings. This issue is exacerbated by companies’ efforts to camouflage DAs within one’s home decor by improving their appearance, possibly making users even less aware of their potential intrusion. Bates’ case therefore highlights DAs’ potential to exploit owners and their invitees. It also confirms that companies like Amazon retain data indefinitely. Although deletion of information is possible on DAs, it is strongly discouraged as it “may degrade your Alexa experience” since DAs “get better over time” by processing speech, timbre and accents. For the majority of purchasers of DAs for convenience, deletion is counter to optimization and seems unviable. Moreover, manually turning a DA off fundamentally undermines its ‘beck-and-call’ utility. This compromise of privacy and agency for convenience may prove too high a tradeoff.
 
Changed:
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Notably, whilst devices like smartphones and apps like Facebook, FaceTime? and Skype already impinge on the private domain of the home, these differ in that they are not permanent fixtures in the home, are not necessarily always on, require more deliberate engagement and active "interfacing with a screen"; and do not automatically impact their non-immediate users and surroundings. Additionally, whereas the privacy implications of DAs are still largely unknown and spoken conversation is not yet as self-conscious as written communication, there is greater public awareness of the privacy compromises entailed in using these other services.
>
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Notably, whilst devices like smartphones and apps like Facebook, FaceTime? and Skype already impinge on the private domain of the home, these differ in that they are not permanent fixtures in the home, are not necessarily always on, require more deliberate engagement and active "interfacing with a screen" and do not automatically impact their non-immediate users and surroundings. Additionally, whereas the privacy implications of DAs are still largely unknown and spoken conversation is not yet as self-conscious as written communication, there is greater public awareness of the privacy compromises entailed in using these other services.
 

Surveillance

With the increasing use of DAs and corresponding fast paced product development, their potential capacity for surveillance appears limitless. Whereas first generation Echos had rudimentary voice capabilities, the recent Echo Look is a fashion assistant that is placed in the consumer’s most intimate closet or bathroom. It has inbuilt “hands-free camera, built-in LED, depth-sensing and computer vision-based background”. DAs now have “a brain, an ear and an eye”.

Changed:
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Moreover, DAs are always alert, enabling them to register their wake words. While companies insist this is passive, non-transmitting listening, the recent Google Home Mini incident, whereby the device recorded and transmitted everything it heard persistently due to defective touch-sensitive panels, demonstrates the precariousness of this always-on state and its potential for company/government/hacker exploitation. This evidences DAs’ technical sensitivity and inbuilt recording capability and the ease with which through a software update, physical exploit or glitch, the device transforms beyond consumers’ control.
>
>
Moreover, DAs are always alert, enabling them to register their wake words. While companies insist this is passive, non-transmitting listening, the recent Google Home Mini incident, whereby the device recorded and transmitted everything it heard persistently due to defective touch-sensitive panels, demonstrates the precariousness of this always-on state and its potential for company/government/hacker exploitation. This evidences DAs’ technical sensitivity and inbuilt recording capability and the ease with which through a software update, physical exploit or glitch, the device transforms beyond consumers’ control.
 

Agency

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 If DAs perform human tasks, are privy to and participate in human conversation and punctuate daily behaviors, they may soon predict human thought and action it independently. This is troublesome. The more capable and humanized the machine becomes the more DAs will be embedded in the human psyche. This reliance on the machine by humans, who are traditionally defined by their capacity for independent thought and responsive action, paradoxically increases the chances of a role reversal whereby the consumer becomes consumed by the machine.

Given Aral Balkan’s observation that “data about us is us” as it can reveal everything about us, the potential issues with, and capabilities of DAs are problematic. Profit-motivated companies must ultimately decide how to use such data. This data allows them to make use of and influence the users’ behavior, thereby depriving humans of their agency and giving DAs a life of their own.

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LaraNurickFirstEssay 1 - 02 Nov 2017 - Main.LaraNurick
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"Alexa, ..."

-- By LaraNurick - 01 Nov 2017

Introduction

I recently witnessed an apparently endless line of people waiting for free giveaways of the newly launched Google Home Mini ‘Digital Assistant’ (‘DA’). The current proliferation of DAs, from Amazon’s Echo, (which goes by ‘Alexa’), to Apple’s HomePod? , provoked me to question the impact of DAs on humanity, specifically on behavior, privacy and agency.

DAs

DAs are voice controlled, cloud-based speakers which use on-device keyword spotting. DAs are activated by wake words, upon which they act and then resume their sleep. Common uses include setting timers, alarms, appointments, calling or messaging, playing music and games, checking weather and traffic, making shopping lists and purchases as well as controlling the rapidly increasing third-party smart home appliances with compatible software. Since Amazon, the market leader, first released its Echo in 2014, its capabilities and user base have continually expanded. Last week, CEO Jeff Bezos claimed, “customers have purchased tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices…and active customers are up more than 5 times since the same time last year”. Approximately 35.6 million Americans use a DA, with Gartner projecting a quarter of all household requests will use DAs by 2019.

What's at stake?

Behaviour

Using technology to mediate and action basic human needs is fundamentally altering human interaction. As Sherry Turkle warns, it conditions us to “expect more from technology and less from each other”. Whilst DAs’ hands-free centralized control is highly convenient and may benefit the disabled and the elderly; children’s behavior may be at risk. Although children enjoy the speedy access to information and available games along with the simulated company of DAs, research suggests the impact of increasing mediated interaction and the DAs’ lack of emotional intelligence may promote the use of simplistic language and inquiry, bad manners, compromised adult-child communication along with the need for instant gratification. DAs value simple clear diction over niceties and patience, potentially leading children to adopt similar behavior in all interactions.

Privacy

Amazon’s Echo comprises two speakers, seven microphones and omnidirectional audio. When it detects its wake word ‘Alexa’, it streams what it hears as well as the fraction of a second beforehand to the cloud. This is troublesome because this information likely contains fragmentary intimate conversation which cumulatively may reveal significant information from within the most private of places; the home. While the Fourth Amendment historically provides the idea of an inviolate home, the controversial third-party doctrine suggests that one’s privacy may be overridden when one voluntarily shares information from inside the home with a third-party corporation. This was discussed following James Bates’ murder trial where police requested DAs’ recordings for the first time. While Amazon initially refused, these were eventually given up consensually, precipitating unresolved privacy questions. As DAs prevalence proliferates, moot questions arise regarding the operation of state law and the use of DA recordings where unknowing guests may be recorded, especially in states that require both parties consent for recordings. This issue is exacerbated by companies’ efforts to camouflage DAs within one’s home decor by improving their appearance, possibly making users even less aware of their potential intrusion. Bates’ case therefore highlights DAs’ potential to exploit owners and their invitees. It also confirms that companies like Amazon retain data indefinitely. Although deletion of information is possible on DAs, it is strongly discouraged as it “may degrade your Alexa experience” since DAs “get better over time” by processing speech, timbre and accents. For the majority of purchasers of DAs for convenience, deletion is counter to optimization and seems unviable. Moreover, manually turning a DA off fundamentally undermines its ‘beck-and-call’ utility. This compromise of privacy and agency for convenience may prove too high a tradeoff.

Notably, whilst devices like smartphones and apps like Facebook, FaceTime? and Skype already impinge on the private domain of the home, these differ in that they are not permanent fixtures in the home, are not necessarily always on, require more deliberate engagement and active "interfacing with a screen"; and do not automatically impact their non-immediate users and surroundings. Additionally, whereas the privacy implications of DAs are still largely unknown and spoken conversation is not yet as self-conscious as written communication, there is greater public awareness of the privacy compromises entailed in using these other services.

Surveillance

With the increasing use of DAs and corresponding fast paced product development, their potential capacity for surveillance appears limitless. Whereas first generation Echos had rudimentary voice capabilities, the recent Echo Look is a fashion assistant that is placed in the consumer’s most intimate closet or bathroom. It has inbuilt “hands-free camera, built-in LED, depth-sensing and computer vision-based background”. DAs now have “a brain, an ear and an eye”.

Moreover, DAs are always alert, enabling them to register their wake words. While companies insist this is passive, non-transmitting listening, the recent Google Home Mini incident, whereby the device recorded and transmitted everything it heard persistently due to defective touch-sensitive panels, demonstrates the precariousness of this always-on state and its potential for company/government/hacker exploitation. This evidences DAs’ technical sensitivity and inbuilt recording capability and the ease with which through a software update, physical exploit or glitch, the device transforms beyond consumers’ control.

Agency

If DAs perform human tasks, are privy to and participate in human conversation and punctuate daily behaviors, they may soon predict human thought and action it independently. This is troublesome. The more capable and humanized the machine becomes the more DAs will be embedded in the human psyche. This reliance on the machine by humans, who are traditionally defined by their capacity for independent thought and responsive action, paradoxically increases the chances of a role reversal whereby the consumer becomes consumed by the machine.

Given Aral Balkan’s observation that “data about us is us” as it can reveal everything about us, the potential issues with, and capabilities of DAs are problematic. Profit-motivated companies must ultimately decide how to use such data. This data allows them to make use of and influence the users’ behavior, thereby depriving humans of their agency and giving DAs a life of their own.


You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Revision 6r6 - 01 Apr 2018 - 14:21:31 - EbenMoglen
Revision 5r5 - 01 Apr 2018 - 13:46:05 - LaraNurick
Revision 4r4 - 31 Mar 2018 - 20:47:20 - LaraNurick
Revision 3r3 - 03 Dec 2017 - 16:29:27 - EbenMoglen
Revision 2r2 - 02 Nov 2017 - 02:35:44 - LaraNurick
Revision 1r1 - 02 Nov 2017 - 00:06:46 - LaraNurick
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