back to article Audio spy Alexa now has a little pal called Dox

Amazon's audio surveillance personal assistant device, Alexa, has acquired an external battery pack called Dox. The appropriately named portable energy store, made by lifestyle gadgetry firm Ninety7, does not (thankfully) do what its name says. Instead, says its maker, it offers "up to 10 hours" of extra life for Alexa. The …

  1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    users can customise the precise trigger phrase...

    Now if we could just do that with Google ... "Hey Shi'Thead, where's the nearest Loo?"

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sigh

    And a whole shed load of Alexa devices will be sold in the lead up to Crimble. These will mostly be bought by the numpties that get seduced by the clever TV adverts.

    I wonder how many people receiving these realise just what that device is doing when it is sitting in your room waiting for an 'Alexa...' command.

    I would imagine a lot of them will make their way to landfill by early February. (they should not go to landfill when no longer needed)

    For homes that have bought into the Amazon lifestyle lock stock and Wholefoods deliveries, then you have my sincere condolences.

    Posting A/C as one of my offspring falls into that category.

    1. david bates

      Re: Sigh

      I got a Dot free with my Wileyfox phone.

      I was going to sell it - but I got curious. I absolutely love it now. I dont have any home automation so I'm not using it to the full, but using it to play radio, answer questions etc is great.

      I live on my own so all its going to pick up is swearing at things that are not behaving themselves. I know about the privacy concerns, but tbh thats pretty much a non-issue for me.

      After Christmas I'll be scouring eBay for another 3 to put around the house.

      1. inmypjs Silver badge

        Re: Sigh

        "I absolutely love it now."

        "I live on my own"

        I smell correlation.

        1. Teiwaz
          Windows

          Re: Sigh

          "I absolutely love it now."

          "I live on my own"

          I smell correlation.

          So do I, but I'm certainly not interest in talking to a shopping centre. I'm single, not crazy

          1. Anne-Lise Pasch

            Re: Sigh

            > So do I, but I'm certainly not interest in talking to a shopping centre. I'm single, not crazy

            My father noticed that if you gave the people who talk to themselves a Bluetooth earpiece, they become 'normal' again. Soon, the new normal will be everyone talking to themselves.

        2. Loud Speaker

          Re: Sigh

          I smell correlation.

          Might even be causation in this case. (More data needed - or not)

      2. Teiwaz

        Re: Sigh

        After Christmas I'll be scouring eBay for another 3 to put around the house.

        I can only think 'sad lonely sod.'

        Accept your lot in life and get six or seven cats...

        1. Captain DaFt

          Re: Sigh

          Accept your lot in life and get six or seven cats...

          Bad idea.

          There are easier ways to end it all.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Sigh

      What is it doing?

    3. Wade Burchette Silver badge

      Re: Sigh

      I will tell you what will happen. These devices will reach market saturation at some point. This means that Amazon and Google will not be making much money on these devices, not enough to cover the research and running the servers. So they will have two choices: (1) make the oldest ones obsolete by pushing out an update that is required to use the servers and conveniently is incompatible with the oldest units; or (2) use the microphone for better targeted advertising. My money is on both happening.

      And can you imagine the information that can be gleamed by listening: Alexa hears a dog bark but no cat meow, Amazon now knows that somefamily123@yahoo.com has a dog and will start to show dog food on its home page. She also hears a woman's voice late in the evening but not in the middle of the day for a few days but then all day for a few days. Using an algorithm, Amazon determines that the wife of somefamily123@yahoo.com is a nurse and will start to show ladies nursing scrubs. Alexa also hears a man's voice, and he quite often talks about basketball to a younger male's voice. Now Amazon knows that somefamily123@yahoo.com has a child who plays grade school basketball. And I could go on.

      If the police offered to put a device in your home for free that would listen all the time for gunshots, you would reject it immediately. Even if you lived in the worse neighborhood in the world and even if it really was for your protection. Yet people gladly pay for a for-profit company to listen to them all the time.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: Sigh

        Google will retire it at some point in the future and it will stop working, they do that with just about everything they release. Amazon have a better track-record in that respect.

    4. Jonathan 27

      Re: Sigh

      Why does anyone want one of these if they already have a smartphone. It's the smart watch thing all over again.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sigh

        What phone? I wouldn't mind, as a previous poster stated, having some of these around. Amazon, Google, et al. are not my threat model.* It's just about perfect for shut-ins such as myself. Others, not so much unless you are deep into whichever ecosystem's clutches and all that. Hell, even the supermarkets have woken up and started to smell the tea/coffee. They're getting into delivery as well and just love inhabiting my inbox.

        * I'd probably need to lock it from my credit cards though. Way too much computer hardware are the ads de jour here.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    "Dox" may not be the image they want to convey....

    But damm is that an accurate description of what they are doing.

    "Always on microphone" is supposedly handled by their internal processor.

    But who believes that?

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: "Dox" may not be the image they want to convey....

      "But who believes that?"

      Everyone who's checked for themselves and not believed the FUD spread on web forums?

  4. EddieD

    "and, worst of all, broadcast Dire Straits whenever asked to play a song"

    Kill it with fire.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: "and, worst of all, broadcast Dire Straits whenever asked to play a song"

      "Kill it with Fire"

      That 'Fire' would be the amazon Fire TV Stick as advertised by JC himself.

      1. handleoclast
        Coat

        Re: "and, worst of all, broadcast Dire Straits whenever asked to play a song"

        I assumed the song was Money For Nothing. I can't imagine why that popped into my head.

        [edit]

        Bugger! Just scrolled down after posting and somebody got there before me.

  5. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese

    Not much use

    the thing failed to wake up to its wake word, refused to set calendar invites, and, worst of all, broadcast Dire Straits whenever asked to play a song.

    "Money for nothing"?

    1. Captain Hogwash

      Re: Not much use

      Private Investigations? Telegraph Road?

    2. DropBear
      Trollface

      Re: Not much use

      And just what's wrong with that - it's a perfect fit! "There's gotta be a record of you someplace / You gotta be on somebody's books..."

  6. Solarflare

    I'm confused. So let's say that I have an Alexa device* then that would be in my house, plugged in to the mains. Why would I want to make that specific device mobile? If this sort of thing is your bag then you'll probably have a smartphone with a 'personal assistant' on it as well, you know, to remind you when to take a bowel movement and such**. So yes, why do I need a battery pack?

    *I don't and I really don't want one.

    **I assume this is the sort of thing PAs are for.

    1. D@v3

      Why portable?

      That was my first thought as well, but thinking about it, i have a couple of possibilities. Mainly, if it is nice weather, you might want to take one into the garden, still within reach of Wi-Fi, so that you can control your music, and do other things.

      Other option, much more likely, you cant stand to be disconnected from the hive mind, so carry it with you around the house, from room to room, where you can plug it into the mains.

      1. handleoclast
        Coat

        Re: Why portable?

        Easy. For when you're in the toilet. "Alexa, order me some toilet roll. Express delivery."

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Why portable?

          This is just to iron out the mobile bugs so the next one, with screen and 360 deg always-on camera >8O will work smoothly.

        2. AndrueC Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Why portable?

          For when you're in the toilet. "Alexa, order me some toilet roll. Express delivery."

          That still sounds like a crap idea :)

          Sorry. I think it might be time for bed.

      2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: Why portable?

        @D@v3

        Mainly, if it is nice weather, you might want to take one into the garden, still within reach of Wi-Fi, so that you can control your music

        Anti-social bastard! If it's a nice day I want to relax in the garden in peace and quiet, not listen to your blasted 'music'. The strimmers and lawn-mowers are bad enough...

    2. Phil Endecott

      > Why would I want to make that specific device mobile?

      So you can take it on a train, to the pub, restraunt etc. and record other peoples' conversations too.

      (How long till that actually happens?)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Have an upvote - shame I could only give one.

  7. rmason

    @Solarflare

    You're correct, solution looking for a problem.

    It also needs an internet connection to work. So that assumes the people using this will have something that can kick out wifi.

    Such as, for example, a phone. A phone they could use to do whatever they were trying to achieve by lugging an echo or a dot around with them.

  8. Andy 73

    Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

    As a glorified kitchen radio. the Dot does an excellent job. Plays radio, sets timers, answers questions all without having to dry your hands. Perfect. Does it constantly send recordings back to Amazon? Demonstrably not, and even if it did they would be the most ineffective spying yet encountered.

    Does it warrant the paranoia and naysaying here? Not really. It's a lightweight household gizmo that is marginally more useful than the donut maker we got last year. Sometimes I wonder if the Register has accidentally got forum members shipped over from Luddites-R-Us.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

      Luddites? I'm not sure. More like "we don't want more shit around the house." or "I deal with tech all day, why should I when I'm at home?" Maybe it's an age difference... younger techies love this stuff, us older guys are like "meh.".

      1. Teiwaz

        Re: Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

        Luddites?

        Definitely an age thing.

        Anything that exists before you were born is just how the world works.

        Anything invented up until you turn thirty is new and exciting and you can probably get a career in it.

        Anything invented after you thirties is against the natural order of things.

        Douglas Adams (not a direct quote)

    2. Citizens untied

      Re: Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

      Is it luddite to only want to exploit natural resource for truly productive and useful things. Neither a donut maker nor an Alexa fall even close to items labelled "Essentials"

      1. Seajay#

        Re: Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

        Mark 85 / Citizens untied

        If you aren't interested in tech in your own time and you want to be highly productive, what are you doing on El Reg?

        1. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland

          I'm still tech. Once a techie, always a techie. But like some others, I chose my battles, headaches, and stress in my off time.

  9. inmypjs Silver badge

    "Does it constantly send recordings back to Amazon? Demonstrably not"

    Can you demonstrate it won't ever?

    1. Haku

      Aye, this isn't like a potential surveillance device was surreptitiously put into your home through the back door, it came in through the front door, and people willing purchased them!

      1. david bates

        For what purpose?

        Its not going to pick up any industrial secrets, and the first time it raises a suspicion of acting on things its heard rather than been told its fairly easy to have it 'break' and return it for a refund.

        1. Captain DaFt

          Its not going to pick up any industrial secrets, and the first time it raises a suspicion of acting on things its heard rather than been told its fairly easy to have it 'break' and return it for a refund.

          I hope you haven't espoused such sentiments within its hearing!

          Or else we'll soon be reading a Reg article about 'someone' that tripped over their IOT hoover when their IOT lights unexpectedly went out, and knocked their brains out on the Amazon ordered anvil that was placed in the hallway by the deliveryman when the IOT door lock let him in!

          What? Me paranoid?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As far as I know these devices are incapable of any significant speech processing themselves, so everything is sent to the cloud for analysis. The question is whether this only starts when the local box (thinks it) recognises the "listen up" keyword/phrase - a much simpler task than general speech recognition, although subject to the usual false +ve/-ve matching issues.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      It only starts sending data when triggered by the wake up word.

      According to Amazon. And easy to verify with a simple packet monitor or by looking at the flashing light on the ethernet switch.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        What guarantee that will always be true?

        Privacy policies are changed all the time.

        Employing it as a household spy wouldn't be a good idea when it is just starting out, but when they've peaked and are no longer adding any new households?

        Though honestly I'd expect Google would be more likely than Amazon to be the one to turn theirs into an unabashed spy, probably with a McNealy like "privacy is dead, get over it" statement. Though there's only a 50/50 chance of that. The other 50% chance is that after a couple years Google kills the Echo, and announces they'll stop working at the end of 2019.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Future device will expand the capabilities.

      Whether it's transmitting everything only when it wakes up, or everything from 30 seconds or 30 minutes before it woke up, it's still normalising having a microphone in the home.

      As with cameras on cars, cycle helmets and in coffee shops, people will eventually become numb to microphones and cameras in every room in order to have the 'convenience' of connecting with friends and family without having to lift a finger.

      1. Donn Bly

        normalising having a microphone in the home

        I don't know where you have been living, but having a microphone in the home has been the normal state of affairs ever since residential land line telephone.

        You also probably have an always-on listening microphone on your laptop and your smartphone.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Citizens untied

    What happens when you...

    Say,"Alexa, play 'The Downeaster Alexa'"

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    reg getting boring...

    I don't know if the reg is just getting older with its reader demographic, but i'm with those here getting annoyed with the luddite thinking. There is no evidence that Alexa is "spying". That'd be some journalism.

    If they did change their privacy policy, sure complain. Did they update their policy to say that everything you say and do can and will be used against you?

    Until then, it's getting boring with the whining that policies could change, alexa could explode, alexa could take over the world and become skynet...

    I feel like I'm reading some fucking pensioner tech rant site... oh no we don;t wanna no cloud shenanigans no, no, that for em young foolish fellas...

    1. Kaltern

      Re: reg getting boring...

      I have to agree here, until I'm shown concrete evidence that an Alexa device is acting as surveillance, I will ignore the cries of privacy invasion.

      Just because something COULD happen, doesn't have to mean it WILL happen. We're not at CtOS levels of creepy just yet.

      1. Long John Brass

        Re: reg getting boring...

        I have to agree here, until I'm shown concrete evidence that an Alexa device is acting as surveillance, I will ignore the cries of privacy invasion.

        I think the thing is; That us older techies have spent a lot more time working for various evil overlords and we know what kinda crap they get up to. We've seen em do it, over and over and over again.

        After a while you get a tad... Cynical

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: reg getting boring...I feel like I'm reading some fucking pensioner tech rant site

      Well, when you read my posts you are doing just that. I can't speak for anybody else.

    3. Tim Seventh

      Re: reg getting boring...

      @AC

      "I don't know if the reg is just getting older with its reader demographic, but i'm with those here getting annoyed with the luddite thinking. There is no evidence that Alexa is "spying".

      Umm, read before you post?

      Quoted "Earlier this year, American police forced Amazon to hand over recordings from an Alexa mic as part of a murder investigation." and "Amazon initially resisted the warrant". Both highlight there's something Amazon got from Alexa, otherwise there's nothing to resist because they've got nothing to hide.

      If that's not enough, think in technical. How does Alexa know your voice? How does Alexa know what you said? Both of which need voice analysis software. If it's not done in the local device, then it's done on someone else's device. It's even stated on the wiki that they use Amazon Web Services.

      To verify, it is simple. Turn off internet. Can it still recognize your command? No? you got spied.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: reg getting boring...

        > You got spied.

        No, you got listened to.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: reg getting boring...

        >> Turn off internet. Can it still recognize your command? No? you got spied.

        "Turn off internet. Can a search engine recognise you request? No? you got spied."

        The logic does not flow for me.. Transfer of user generated requests in itself does not amount to "spying".. every thing you do on the internet is arguably "your command"

        >>American police forced Amazon to hand over recordings from an Alexa mic as part of a murder investigation." and "Amazon initially resisted the warrant". Both highlight there's something Amazon got from Alexa, otherwise there's nothing to resist because they've got nothing to hide.

        A couple of leaps there - the resistance was for overreach and you're assuming there was something to hide.

        The recordings were of the requests processed after the wake word. That's something told to the device, consciously by the user.

        The wake word processing is done locally. When you call it out and it is disconnected, it responds.

        You'd be on to something if it was constantly uploading conversations to find the wake word and storing these in-spite of not being called to.

        That is not the case.

  13. jukejoint

    Sadly, I don't put anything past anyone anymore: "business interests" - corporations - oligarchs - politicians - all humans, and all not to be trusted. Robots? Humans built them. Not to be trusted. AI? I laugh at that term: humans like to pat themselves on the back for being "intelligent" and for the perceived ability to construct it artificially when they are unclear on the original concept.

    Drag out 'Luddite' all you want, you edgy brilliant younguns: the plastic alone will suffocate you in the long run. Such pasty little faces!

    Now go run along enjoy your "sustainably sourced" playthings... oh, wait...

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Cynical

    You don't have to be old to be cynical. Now I'm old, but I was always cynical. The trouble is, no matter how cynical I may have been over the last half century or so, reality has always gone further.

    Just think vehicle emissions testing.

  15. nijam Silver badge

    > It means more than you think it means...

    Short for "doxy", I expect.

  16. Mnot Paranoid
    Stop

    Please, please, please...

    stop trying to make voice control "a thing". Wildfire ('member this?) was truly awful and we don't seem to have moved any further.

    Maybe I'm just old, but Sean Parker has blown the gaff on social media, so perhaps there's hope for the death of vox dox too.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    certain sites

    are now employing/using more actress's called Alexa .. could make for some very interesting orders.

    (pornhub)

  18. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Alexa, Surveillance, It's not what the company can and may do but the capacity of the device that matters. Robotic carpet cleaners can now map out your floor plan using wi-fi, Alexa and Google assistant type devices could be made to covertly sniff out wi-fi and Bluetooth connections. In my location I can see Wi-fi for a couple of kilometers, By using swarm ideas I could unite wi-fi devices I could scope out the whole street, or the whole area radar style,(radars use Microwaves), I could note that the person sneaking into your home with that clown mask on is of the same weight and height as you and matches your movement style and behaviour characteristics, they seem to know the lay out of the place and move around with confidence, I could see the police coming down the street in their car, and identify where every other vehicle is. I could do this using other peoples wi-fi devices if you did not have one in your own home or had unplugged it for privacy. and that is with all the holes in Bluetooth and wi-fi and processor bugs that theReg has recently identified.

    It will be fun times ahead for private eyes and national spies.

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