Paul Bailey

Father, web developer, and pizza maker; Software Entomologist @saltstack

Voice Assistants are the Modern Day Groom of the Stool

Image of : The 1st Earl of Holland, Groom of the Stool to Charles I, until 1643,
All the rage in the news lately has been the revelation that voice assistants are listening and recording many of our conversations and employees and contractors of these companies can access these recordings. And while accessing these recordings can be anonymous, happens to legitimately improve the service, and happens to a very low percentage of recordings, it still makes the most logical of us flinch. Why is that?
Here is a sample of some of the latest stories:
The thing I came to realize is that voice assistants are like butlers or more interestingly like Grooms of the Stool. What are Grooms of the Stool? Check out Wikipedia for more detailed info. In a nutshell, they helped the king with his toileting needs. That could include bringing the king water or towels, maybe even helping him wash his butt. The groom would even interface with the royal doctor to supply the doctor with information about the king's bowel movements and diet.
The thing is this position was so intimate that this position became one of high trust, confidence, and power. The Groom of the Stool often knew state and personal secrets. Eventually the position evolved into an administration of royal finances and under Henry VII was given the responsibility of setting national fiscal policy.
Google, Alexa, and Siri right now are fairly simple in terms of what they can do. They provide some convenient services but it is at the cost of being very intimate with us. They definitely can take some drudgery out of the everyday. With this, they not only listen in but also gather many points of data on us.
My point of all this is not to scare you. After all, I'm sure many Grooms of the Stool were very well liked and highly valued. But if you wish for tech companies to take care of your private areas, you better trust them a lot. And for tech companies, you better not lose our trust, or you might get beheaded pretty quick. I think we are seeing this already for calls to break up tech companies like Facebook and Amazon.
Lastly, to keep some separation of powers maybe don't let the Groom of the Stool also control your finances. I'm thinking this could be Apple and their new Apple credit card and Facebook and their Libra coin. However, Amazon is probably already pretty close to this power if you shop on Amazon and use Alexa.
In conclusion, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, and don't let tech companies wipe your butt unless they are highly trusted.

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August 21st, 2019

And then we were going crazy over FaceApp having the rights to use our photos in whichever way they wish to. Crazy how people never bothered about Google and Facebook collecting their personal life data and were bothered with their photos being “controlled” by a Russian startup. As if, it weren’t already available openly on the internet.

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