Watch Your Back

A perspective on how companies are crossing the line.


Alexa is always listening.

Does that bother you? Make you feel uncomfortable? Well, that’s not all.

Every action you make, including any phone calls or text messages, is constantly being monitored by social media sites and smart technology such as Alexa, a virtual assistant and home system.

Our online presence always leaves a trace of information that companies actively collect in order to provide us with targeted ads. Sure, that’s slightly unsettling, but what is truly concerning is how the integration of smart technology into our daily lives makes all of our online and offline actions available for companies to track and create ads that align with what they believe match our interests.

According to Alexa’s terms of use, “Alexa streams audio to the cloud when you interact with Alexa. Amazon processes and retains your Alexa Interactions, such as your voice inputs.” This means that Alexa keeps voice recordings associated with users’ accounts which can only be deleted manually, and even then it remains uncertain if these records are truly erased.

With the increasing use of smart devices and our growing reliance on social media, it is imperative that a line is drawn in order to protect our information from companies and hackers. Companies should not be allowed to constantly monitor “private” messages that are sent via social media apps or regulated by smart devices, and we should not have to consent to this personal information being recorded and given away or not kept securely. Although we can choose whether or not to consent to these terms of use, it is unreasonable to track and disperse our data to other parties because internet connectivity and social networking are important aspects of our lives that are almost impossible to avoid.

I want to believe that my offline actions are not being watched so that I can maintain at least a semblance of separation between my real life and online presence, but this proves to be impossible as companies continue to record my personal data and interactions. As advertisements are created to appeal to consumers in more personalized ways, a point is reached where our decisions are influenced by outside parties to such a degree that our own judgment is affected.

Using simple aspects in ads ranging from color selection to specific references to our daily actions, companies can send subliminal messages and potentially influence our behavior. So, where is the separation between simply suggesting a product or service for purchase and influencing our behavior in ways that we may not even be aware of? As human beings who have fought for centuries to maintain our most fundamental rights to freedom and individuality, ads aiming to psychologically and subconsciously coerce us into making decisions that we otherwise may not make is almost contradictory to this struggle. Companies tracking my personal data through keeping an endless record of my life is already intrusive enough; exploiting my reliance on technology by using that data in a targeted effort to manipulate my actions is a violation of my personal autonomy.

Through our dependence on social media and smart technology like Alexa — there is even a smart refrigerator now — our online and offline presences are merging into one discernible whole that is constantly being monitored and shared without our knowledge. To account for this trend towards technological dependency, the terms of use must be revised to protect our rights to privacy and autonomy. Though on the surface it appears that our lives are unrestrained and completely within our own control, in truth, the profiteering of companies off of the constant surveillance of our lives construes a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Big Brother is Watching You,” except that this time, it is Alexa who is listening in on your life.