by Kim Komando
The new Motorola Moto X phone is “always on and always listening.” What does that mean?
There are still plenty of unanswered questions about the “always-on” feature. A phone that’s always listening could have nasty consequences beyond bad battery life. Who’s to say it won’t hear things that it shouldn’t and pass them on to advertisers, hackers or the government? It isn’t just the Moto X either. Other popular tech gear is heading in this direction. That includes a certain game console that will end up in millions of homes over the next few years. Let’s back up a minute for anyone who hasn’t been following the news. The Moto X is the first new smartphone from Motorola since Google bought it. On the surface, it’s a standard mid-range Android with customizable features. However, one particular feature sticks out.
The phone has voice-activated hands-free controls. You just say “OK, Google Now,” and the phone turns itself on. To do this, it’s always listening, waiting for a command.
It’s not the first gadget to sport controls like these. Microsoft’s new Xbox One with its Kinect controller will do the same thing.
If these succeed, more companies will add this feature to compete. I know Google will push it on more Android phones going forward. Apple might follow suit.
Reality is catching up with science fiction. But will it be Star Trek or 2001: A Space Odyssey?
Just like HAL and The Matrix have scary consequences, so could “always-on” tech. It could be the end of privacy as we know it.
If a tech gadget is always listening and watching, there’s no telling what it will see and hear. There’s no way to tell if these gadgets will only pay attention to their pre-set commands.
They could listen or watch your private moments and use that data for all sorts of sketchy things. It’s no secret that Google uses everything it can to target you with ads. This could take that ad targeting to a scary new level.
Moto X could hear you having an argument with a loved one and later suggest marriage counseling. If your Kinect, which watches your entire living room, sees you eating Doritos, will you suddenly see “special offers” from Frito Lay?
Microsoft has already filed a patent for a system that watches you watch TV. It records what commercials grab your attention and which ones don’t. Then it passes that information on to advertisers.
That’s just the tip of the bizarre, frightening iceberg.
Well, you might say, I’ll just turn the gadget off when I’m not using it. Aside from the fact that you’ll use these gadgets a lot, that won’t do much good. In the case of the Xbox One, even when it’s “off,” it’s really on waiting for your commands.
Even if the companies don’t plan to abuse this feature, someone could. I’ve told you in the past how hackers love to hack webcams and smartphone cameras. I bet they’re thrilled at the ability to monitor you round the clock without you knowing.
Yes, they can do similar things with your current gear. However, there’s a good chance you’d notice. Current tech isn’t built to pay attention all the time, so there would be obvious clues. For example, your smartphone battery might drain quickly or your webcam light is on when it shouldn’t be.
Once tech is made to be constantly watching, how do you know who is watching? You don’t.
Don’t forget, Microsoft and Google were both implicated in the NSA’s scary PRISM leak. If the feds demand a way inside of your gadget, do you trust the tech firms to stop them? It’d be like inviting Big Brother over to play a game of Halo!
Now, these are all worse-case scenarios. It’s likely that most of these tech gadgets will have a way to turn these features off. In fact, this week Microsoft backpedaled on the Kinect and it is no longer mandatory with the Xbox One. Of course, it will still arrive in the same box and be needed for the Xbox One’s coolest features.
[MR: Companies may claim to disable or remove these features – but can we trust them to do so. In light of recent revelations, my answer is a resounding NO.]
Plus, I doubt a computing giant like Microsoft or Google would create a huge PR mess for themselves by misusing them. Still, it raises some deep concerns about the way technology is evolving. Your best way to fight back is with your dollars. If you aren’t comfortable with the possibility of always-on tech, don’t buy it. There are dozens of people out there who are trying to spy on your surfing.