And if you are not careful, Alexa will ship you the default – a combination of the most expensive listing of the item that it ships from its distribution warehouse.
Here is a real Australian example. Search Amazon for MacLeans Multiaction Toothpaste. The results are ranked by price from $23.03 (four pack) to $10.94 single pack plus freight (if applicable – Prime membership requires a $49 spend). But what is worse is that Sensodyne (single pack) comes up first – no guessing which product is an Amazon partner.
In almost every category search (even if you specify a brand) Amazon, home brand products come up first followed by Prime recommended items (shipped from its warehouse) and sponsored advertised products. If you are lucky, the best value items are somewhere at the end of the copious search results that Amazon makes it hard to get to (there is no end results button).
BTW, Woolworths has MacLean’s Multiaction toothpaste for $3 every day – no freight. Be a savvy shopper.
5. Smart speakers as attack vectors
Each time a new Amazon Echo device is released, security researchers start looking for vulnerabilities, and cybercriminals pay close attention to them. The Amazon Echo has already become a wiretapping device. This is particularly worrisome when you see how many of these devices are sold ‘second-hand’ on online marketplaces – it is too easy to tamper.
Respected security company McAfee said Smart Speakers Could Become Targets for Sophisticated Malware in 2019. It reasons that Smart Speakers are the nexus for controlling the ever-growing network of IoT devices in a home – these all need to speak to Alexa. Alexa uses ‘skills’ which are easy to write and leave all security issues to the developer. It is not just privacy but the ability to see if you are at home, what assets you own, and much more.
What can you do? It makes sense to take proactive security measures. Mix in a robust firewall (probably already built into your router) and virtual private network protection (VPN) and even run IoT off a separate network.
You already should be in the habit of only connecting to the internet through VPN services but, if you have a pint or two of technical savvy, you can install this service on your router to further protect against home network vulnerabilities. Configuration can be a beast and you might have to upgrade your router to
And never buy a used Alexa speaker.
GadgetGuy’s take – Alexa invades your privacy
Amazon, on the other hand, claims that this is a feature. As with most new tech, we seem to sacrifice more privacy in favour of convenience.
Ultimately, you do not need to dress up your Amazon Alexa speaker as HAL 9000 to transform it into a bit of a creeper. She already is that and is only getting smarter, at your ultimate expense, with every conversation.
While there are privacy shortfalls related to Alexa, you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the convenience. You can minimise some of the purposeful privacy invasions – others you might have to live with.
Me – I prefer not to trust my privacy to a company ranked #23 on the list of globally trusted brands.
Sam Bocetta – if you have any comments I would love to hear them via Disqus.