Big Sister Has a Name, by Eric Peters

Soon there won’t be a room or car anywhere that doesn’t feature electronic Big Sister. From Eric Peters at

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Big Brother turns out to be Big Sister – and her name is Alexa.

Her outsized image isn’t plastered to every telephone pole and billboard, all-seeing eyes watching your every move. But her ears are always open – and increasingly, everywhere.

In the kitchens.

In TVs.

In a large and growing number of new cars, including almost all Audis, several Toyota/Lexus models, most new Cadillacs and Chevys, Lincolns, Chryslers and the just-redesigned 2022 Acura MDX I’m test driving this week.

You can’t see her, but she can hear you.

Like so many things electronic, in-car Alexa is marketed as a convenience. You can ask her about the weather, how many feet in a meter – almost anything – and without taking your hands off the wheel.

But she’s also something else.

Just as your smartphone conveniently lets you snap cute pictures and send them to friends – and then sends data about where and when you took that cute picture and quite possibly that cute picture itself to Google or Apple – so also Alexa, the disembodied voice of Amazon –  conveniently answers your questions while taking note of what you asked.

And not just that.

We are assured that what we ask Alexa is anonymized – and that what Alexa hears us say is dependent upon our giving her permission to listen.

Such assurances should be taken with the same confidence a woman might accept a cocktail from Bill Cosby.

In the first place, Alexa is always listening. Ostensibly, for the “wake” word – her name – which is the auditory prompt that starts the conversation with her. But if she is listening for her name at all times then she can certainly hear everything else; it is simply that the saying of her name makes you aware that she is listening.

The microphones are always on.

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