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Amazon’s blockbuster Alexa event made zero mention of privacy concerns — and that may say more about us than about them

Alexa, how secure is my data?

Senior VP of Amazon Devices Dave Limp in front of a picture of an Alexa-enabled microwave
Amazon announced new products, including an Alexa-powered microwave, at an event in Seattle on September 20, 2018.
Stephen Brashear / Getty
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

A top Amazon executive spent more than 80 minutes at a press event on Thursday unveiling a dizzying array of new voice-powered products, including everything from an Alexa-powered microwave to a portable Alexa gadget to use in your car.

But while Amazon seemingly discussed every conceivable way to embed its voice assistant more deeply into our daily lives, it did not utter a word about the potential privacy risks that these burgeoning human-robot relationships pose.

And maybe, just maybe, that’s because most consumers have given up on the idea of privacy in our times — or believe that the risk-reward balance of technologies like Alexa tilt in the direction of our new artificially intelligent overlords.

The Amazon event arrives at a time in the U.S. when big tech companies have come under intense scrutiny from politicians for how they handle customer data, following the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that was exposed earlier this year.

Amazon has also dealt with its own privacy backlashes related to Alexa, including an instance in May in which a couple unknowingly had their private conversation recorded and sent to a contact in their phone.

But for all the things that Amazon is, it’s not dumb. If stories like that one had any lasting impact on Echo sales, you’d imagine Amazon would at least spend one of the 80-plus minutes at today’s event talking about the improvements it is making to ensure even these fringe cases don’t happen again.

Instead, it was all Alexa glitz and glam. If Amazon customers don’t push Amazon, we live in a world where you can’t expect the company to discuss the potential downsides itself. And that’s sad all around.

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