While many artists have some serious moral quandaries about driving their fans to YouTube given Google's suspect data practices, Chris Castle here looks at why Amazon is in fact a far guiltier culprit.
Guest post by Chris Castle of Music Technology Policy
When Hearst Artist Frederic Remington, cabled from Cuba in 1897 that “there will be no war,”
William Randolph Hearst cabled back: “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
Many artists I speak to have a serious moral problem driving their fans to YouTube knowing that the artists are simply feeding Google’s data bombing with collateral damage in the form of their music and their fans. Yet Google’s beachhead in the data apocalypse is nothing compared to Amazon–as far as I know, which I hesitate to say too categorically given that it’s Google.
But Amazon’s super groovy Alexa comes with many Intelligence Community connections that on balance are more destructive to society than the carbon footprint of Amazon trucks creating the inverse of the efficiency of the shopping center, brutalizing employees or destroying small retailers.
What does Amazon do with your fan’s Alexa data (or your data for that matter)? Belle Lin reports in the Intercept:
At the beginning of October , Amazon was quietly issued a patent that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice. Characteristics, or “voice features,” like language accent, ethnic origin, emotion, gender, age, and background noise would be immediately extracted and tagged to the user’s data file to help deliver more targeted advertising.
The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent. Should Amazon’s patent become a reality, or if accent detection is already possible, it would introduce questions of surveillance and privacy violations, as well as possible discriminatory advertising, experts said.
The civil rights issues raised by the patent are similar to those around facial recognition, another technology Amazon has used as an anchor of its artificial intelligence strategy, and one that it controversially marketed to law enforcement. Like facial recognition, voice analysis underlines how existing laws and privacy safeguards simply aren’t capable of protecting users from new categories of data collection — or government spying, for that matter. Unlike facial recognition, voice analysis relies not on cameras in public spaces, but microphones inside smart speakers in our homes. [Emphasis mine]
What’s the connection to the Intelligence Community? It’s all in the cloud, baby–according to Frank Konkel writing in The Atlantic:
The intelligence community is about to get the equivalent of an adrenaline shot to the chest. This summer, a $600 million computing cloud developed by Amazon Web Services for the Central Intelligence Agency over the past year will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.
And of course the next step after the old IC is the largest employer in Crystal City. According to many sources, Amazon is competing to win a $10 billion–that’s with a B–contract from the Department of Defense to provide cloud services to the entire U.S. military, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative or “JEDI”. (Oh, please.) The Pentagon, by the way, is essentially next door to Amazon’s HQ2 site in Crystal City/Alexandria. There are many interesting twists to this particular Amazon grab at the taxpayer’s money, but one story that caught my eye is Reuters’ reporting that Google dropped out of the competition–why you may ask?
Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Monday it was no longer vying for a $10 billion cloud computing contract with the U.S. Defense Department, in part because the company’s new ethical guidelines do not align with the project, without elaborating.
Google said in a statement “we couldn’t be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”
Yes, that’s right. Too corrupt even for Google. (And CNN reports that Amazon is being investigated by the Pentagon for illegal government contracting practices.) That’s right–Jeff Bezos, JEDI master, wants those big bucks from John Q. Public.
Amazon is looking more and more like Halliburton, and Jeff Bezos is looking more and more like the Charles Foster Kane of the data apocalypse. YouTube looks tame by comparison, which tells you how bad it really is.
And then there’s this braying about Amazon’s “Rekognition” AI-driven facial recognition application:
Amazon Rekognition today announces three new features: detection and recognition of text in images, real-time face recognition across tens of millions of faces, and detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos. Customers who are already using Amazon Rekognition for face verification and identification will experience up to a 10% accuracy improvement in most cases.
And who among us will find it useful to use this tool for “detection of up to 100 faces in challenging crowded photos”. Well…depends on who you mean by “us” as Ava Kofman reports in The Intercept:
Police in Lancashire, a county in northwest England, have rolled out a program to broadcast crime updates, photos of wanted and missing people, and safety notifications to Amazon Echo owners. Since February, the free app has been available to those using Alexa, a cloud-based voice assistant hooked up to the Echo smart speaker. The first of its kind in the U.K., the program was developed by the police force’s innovations manager in a partnership with Amazon developers.
The program marks the latest example of third parties aiding, automating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary. Lancashire County will store citizens’ crime reports on Amazon’s servers, rather than those operated by the police.
And once Amazon uses Alexa to collect this biometric and other data, who do you think has access to it, hmmm? And then there’s Ring, but what happens when Ring meets Alexa is a story for another day, or perhaps an Amazon Prime original series.
So are you still sure you want to promote Alexa penetration? Just ask “her”–“Alexa, deliver my file” and see what happens.
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