A woman who uses the apt TikTok handle @my.data.not.yours has posted a video detailing the truly shocking extent of Amazon’s surveillance of her daily life. She requested “all the data Amazon has on me,” explaining, “I have two Dots and one Echo.” Between them, these devices have collected an astonishing amount of data. She goes through the folders Amazon sent her and says of one audio folder,: “There are 3,534 short audio clips in this file alone.” This is, she says, “so scary.” Yeah.
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The problem isn’t that any of the audio clips contain some kind of compromising information. What they contain is trivial, as she notes of one of them, “This one is of me turning on a light.” However, she continues, “I then clicked on Contacts and it turns out they have a full list of my contacts from my phone and I never remember syncing that.” Also, “The very last thing that I didn’t know that they had, I could have assumed that they have but I don’t love that they have, is my location.” She adds, “I’m not totally comfortable with everything they have.”
She shouldn’t be. In 1984, the citizens of the totalitarian dystopia Oceania are required to have a telescreen in their homes, and can never shut it off. Not only does it blare the regime’s lies and agitprop at them twenty-four hours a day, but it can and does listen in on them, without anyone ever knowing exactly when they’re being listened to.
The hapless proles of Oceania had no other choice but to allow this surveillance; Orwell would be aghast to see modern-day Americans not only willingly inviting surveillance of their daily activities but happily paying for the devices that enable it.
Many of the viewers of the video, however, found it difficult to see why it would be “so scary” that Amazon would have thousands of recordings of people turning on light bulbs and asking Alexa to play some Tony Bennett. According to the New York Post, one commenter thought the TikToker was making a mountain out of a molehill: “It’s scary that people with Echo Dots and Alexa’s etc [sic] don’t know that Amazon records you and keeps the recordings.” Another added, “Can someone explain to me why this is ‘scary’? I’m not interesting enough to care if they have my contacts or audio.”
Sure. The telescreen operators in 1984 no doubt collected oceans of utterly trivial and uninteresting data as well. Then it was someone else’s job to wade through it all in order to discover anyone who may have dared to utter anti-regime sentiments. Once the mechanism for surveillance is in place, what is there to prevent it from being used by the unscrupulous for nefarious purposes?
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Amazon hastened to assure us that this day will not come; a spokesman for the all-encompassing behemoth asserted:
We give customers transparency and control over their Alexa experience. Customers can easily review and delete their voice recordings, or choose not to have them saved at all, at any time. Customers can import their mobile phone contacts to the Alexa app so they can use features like hands-free calling and messaging; this optional feature, which customers need to set up, can be disabled at any time. Finally, you can grant permissions for the Alexa app to use certain data, such as your mobile device’s geolocation, to provide relevant results (e.g., weather, traffic, restaurant recommendations), and you can manage these permissions in the app.
Well, that’s grand. But the key issue here is not that people can opt out now. The issue is how this technology may be used in the future in a world in which the IRS wants information about all Americans’ transactions over $600, and in which your vaccination status determines your access to an increasing range of services and activities, and in which the Justice Department is moving toward stigmatizing virtually all dissent from the regime’s agenda as “white supremacism.”
This is an age of massive federal overreach and restriction of freedom; Amazon’s data collection of trivia may appear to be completely innocuous now, but nothing much needs to change for it to be used against Americans in all sorts of ways. The TikTok user who made this video is right: this is “so scary.” If they can listen to you turning on a light, they can listen to you doing anything, and even if you aren’t engaged in any illegal activity, people with an agenda can and will twist virtually anything into a weapon they can use against you. And Washington is filled today with people with an agenda.