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What The Tech Guy Isn’t Getting For Christmas. . .or Ever

December 7, 2017

I’m a geek, I admit it. I can add binary numbers. (101+111= 1100.) I’m a huge Star Trek fan (If Kirk fought Picard, Kirk would win easily. Picard would say, “Let’s talk abou this” and then Kirk would kill him.) My first program was recorded on cassette tape.

I watched the PC revolution from the beginning. I have used a brick phone. I was a CompuServe users, but never Prodigy, it was too expensive. I worked for WordPefect, Novell and Microsoft.

My point is that I’m pretty familiar with computers. And there are certain things that are not on my Christmas list. I am not interested in a anything that will automate my home. I’m not interested in Alexa, Siri, Cortana or that weird Google assistant who doesn’t seem to have a name.

I don’t want an automated thermostat, or a doorbell that is wired to the internet. I don’t much care for security cameras or a wireless baby monitor. Sure, I no longer have a baby, or toddler at my house, but even if I did, especially if I did, I don’t want a wireless baby monitor.

It comes down to security. Computer security always comes down to a matter of security vs convenience. A password of “mydogskippy” is more convenient to remember than “Il0O1xy7&1.” But, the second password is more secure.

This Christmas there are going to be tons of convenient electronic assitants. The companies behind the digital butlers are even starting to work closer together. Alexa and Google have become friends and will talk to each other now. It will not be long before all of your digital servants can easily share information. . .about you.

And that’s the problem. Any system is hackable. Virtually every system in the world has suffered breakins. A story last month described a man whose cell phone was hacked and his microphone was turned on and someone, we honestly don’t know who, was listening to everything he said.

That digital device sitting on your living room table has it’s microphone all the time, by design. What a hacker did by stealth, Google, Microsoft and others do on purpose. And how does Alexa know when you want to talk to her? You say the word, “Alexa” and she answers. That’s pretty simple. But, how does Alexa know that you said the word Alexa? She listens for her name. And in the mean time she hears everything that you are saying.

There was a recent case where a man was convicted for murder. Part of the evidence against him was provided by his digital eavesdropper. A common refrain from people who advocate for more digital incursion into our lives is “If you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t be worried.” That’s a stupid excuse for literally listening in on every heart to heart talk; every fight, every romantic evening. If a person wanted to come over and listen in on everything said in your house, you’d throw him out in the street. If someone wanted to place a tape recorder under your kids bed and come by and collect the tapes every couple of days, you’d be justifiably freaked out.

But, you (or your friends) will go out and buy a spy to place in your home. And I don’t blame you. They are really convenient. Deceptively convenient, in fact. Just be aware that convenience comes at a price. A price that isn’t printed on the box, and won’t show up on your credit card statement.

Some of you are probably thinking I’m paranoid. “Really, Rodney? The big-bad-google is going to spy on me while I’m watching Game of Thrones? And what’s it going to do with that data? Spoil the plot secrets?”

Honestly, I don’t know. Most of the information you say in your house, if it’s like mine is pretty ordinary. I’m not going to commit a murder that law enforcement can pull off of my digital notekeeper. I’m not going to be sharing any big secrets. In fact, my conversations are pretty boring. I might be tempted to say, “Go ahead. Record away. I have nothing to hide.”

But, I won’t. Just because I don’t know how the data might be used doesn’t mean that I want to let others have it. Remember me mentioning the wireless baby monitors? They have also been hacked. In fact, there’s a whole internet subculture devoted to hacking an sharing baby monitor streams, typically video cameras.

Do I have anything to hide? What do I have to protect? Everything.

Not inviting Cortana to stay at my house this holiday season, or putting Google on my Christmas list.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

One Comment
  1. Patricia Nelson permalink

    Oh dear! This is your mom and I just purchased a Dot. Alexa here I come. I’m old and hope no one cares what I say.

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