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“smart” speakers like the Amazon Echo are all the rage in the blindness community right now. But there are some significant privacy concerns with these devices, and I’d like to see some discussion about that coupled with all the hype and recommendations to blind consumers.

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  • Interesting topic… Although, I know just as many sighted people who have smart speakers as I do blind people. I’m not very concerned about the privacy issues as the same issues arise if you have a smart phone with Siri or OK Google enabled. This may sound like paranoia, but I’m actually convinced the phone is paying attention even when it’s locked. As an example… I was talking with someone a couple years ago about a particular bank, and why I elected not to become a customer. The next day, what appears on my Facebook? Several ads for that bank. Ads for that bank showed up for several weeks afterwards as well. Keep in mind at that point, I’d been on Facebook for about six years, and had never seen ads for that company prior to my conversation. Someone’s phone was listening. With regards to the smart speakers, I do think you may become more vulnerable if you have smart home settings enabled. Have not messed with that yet, though and considering getting a couple of smart outlets for some of the lamps in the house since the cited folks are always forgetting to turn them off. Right now, I use my echo device mostly for music, news, sports radio… So, if anyone is listening, all they are hearing is the number of times I tell it to play a certain artist. Seriously though, if it’s always listening as some have speculated, so is your phone. Really, the only way to avoid it would be to go off the grid completely.

  • Why must we label? They’re all the rage everywhere. It isn’t just a “blind community,” thing.
    And, you can have all the conversations that you want in your limited circle, or try to give your blog and social media posts a wider reach to bring in more, but things will remain the same. People will still continue to use Siri or smart speaker of choice. And they like the fact that their echo can order them dinner, dog food or toilet paper, see their calendars, etc. and even if you don’t follow techy sites or blogs on social media, you still hear about these things and the potentials for security risks. Yet, people are still buying.
    I don’t use my smart speakers for anything beyond making it play music, look up a recipe, tell me weather, maybe turning on the fan. And I know big brother is watching and listening. This is all too apparent when the echo decides to look up something because it thinks I said the wake up word, when it was the tv. True story…
    And in case I was ever in doubt that the internet is creepier beyond Siri and smart speakers… a company that I applied for a job with is now showing up in my sponsored ads on fb. Frankly, I find that way more creepy and disconcerting.
    And it’s unavoidable. I will educate myself as best I can and be as safe as I can, but I won’t go off the grid nor will I live in paranoia. The internet of things is the way we’re going.
    You do you, and the blind community can do whatever it wants to and with itself. People gotta learn how to educate themselves without forced conversation by groups of individuals who pretend to care. Too much forced handholding goes on disguised as education.

  • here’s what needs to be understood. to do the neat tricks, the devices have to be able to phone home and communicate specific information some of that information will be personal data DOB, location data and the like. Our choices are 2. Be afraid of and do not use the tools of our ingenuity or, be aware that in exchange for a product or service, some information as well as coin of the relm will need to be exchanged. This does not mean do not protect your data On the contrary, protect it to the best of your ability but be aware that these protections can not be, will not ever be, 100 percent.

  • I will clarify that I’m not suggesting that people not use these devices, and I’m not picking on Amazon specifically. But when you have authorities in the blindness field recommending that people get smart speakers, internet of things (don’t even get me started on these) devices, ETC., there needs to be some education on good data protection posture to go along with it. That needs to happen with sighted people too, except sighted people don’t have their rehab counsellors buying these things for them. Also, not a fan of the “pretend to care” quip. If I didn’t give a shit, I wouldn’t have brought this up. I am not asking anyone to go off the grid. I’m not asking anyone to run scared from everything. I’m asking that educators and authorities in this space show and inform their students and clients how to treat these things like the double-edged swords that they are.

  • I am sure many people in the blindness world know me as an advocate for technology and a tech enthusiast, so it won’t be a surprise when I say this. When you buy an internet device you make the decision to put information out there whether you like it or not. The only way to prevent your information from going to the wrong hands is to be mindful as a consumer. I think Amazon and Google have a responsibility to make their devices as secure as possible, and I think they do an ok job at it. I think Amazon does a better job than Google, but the same thing goes for our phones. There are more and more points of failure as tech becomes more complicated and that is just the price we pay for advancement. I do think it is important for everyone to be mindful as they buy technology but I don’t think smart speakers are any different from any other device.

  • As a rehab professional someone is going to have to give me a damn good vocational justification be fore I recommend that my agency by them another toy to play with. This is a whole different topic, but I don’t care. People treat us as the department of stuff for the blind. I have been a consumer and I know the game! I’ve played it myself. How much did I really use the Romeo I made the state by for college 30 years ago? But I don’t order fifteen thousand dollar glasses or 30 dollar dots if it is not moving that person toward employment!

  • Sorry Amanda, but you kind of hit a button I think. Because I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I understand that people are going to follow the money, but it still BS. And that also goes for companies that make $6000 note takers that barely do what they were designed to do only because they know there are deep pockets out there that are willing to pay for them if Marketed to correctly. I am honored to be in a role that I can get equipment into peoples hands that they would have no other way of obtaining. But we have a specific mandate to move people forward in their lives. And it’s going to get abused no matter what. It’s just the nature of the system. I don’t really have any answers. As for the privacy concerns for smart devices I think there would almost have to be legislation. Lawyers will subpoena the data obtained by devices for divorce proceedings and All kinds of craziness is going to happen. Right now privacy policies change all the time, and no one reads them. They can sell everything they know about us to the highest bidder. And the government has already turned on the microphones in some of these devices to listen to people. There really is no privacy, and we all just except it as part of the price we pay.

  • It’s true though. You’ve echoed my thoughts on the vr system. I’ve seen people who aren’t looking for employment manage to get one of those $6000 note takers for their own personal use. As if the rehab agency existed to fund their desire to play with techy toys they can not afford. Meanwhile, I’ve been in situations where I needed something for a job that I couldn’t get the company to pay for, and I had to call CAP on them because my counselor and her supervisor acted like the funds for the necessary jaws scripting I’d asked them to pay for was coming out of their personal bank accounts. As an aside. Maybe I’m off base here, but if this info is accurate, and scores of counselors are purchasing smart speakers for their clients, I’d question how well they’re doing their job. What’s the justification and the case for a smart speaker either in a job setting or to help someone be employed?

  • I am glad that we are given the flexibility to choose appropriate equipment for people on an individualized basis based on their real world needs. We have a training center and a lot of times clients see what other counselors have provided for other clients and then they think they should get the same thing whether it’s appropriate for the vocational goals or not and that’s where the problems come in sometimes. Job retention should always be the top priority and paying for scripting in the situation like what Amy is talking about is a no-brainer for me. But that’s because I’ve been in that situation before and I understand how critical it can be. Finding a qualified vendor that can do the scripting that’s in our system is the hard part. We don’t always have access to good trainers that are willing to go to worksites.

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