back to article Buried in the hype, one little detail: Amazon's Alexa-on-a-chip could steal smart home market

Amid the enormous bundle of digital-assistant devices and technology Amazon super-hyped this week, one particular component has the potential to change the future of the smart home market. It's hardware that, in theory, would allow any manufacturer to make their products work with the Alexa system. The Alexa Connect Kit is …

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Big Brother

Great...

Spyware-on-a-chip....

Ready to be added to anything and everything that runs on electricity...

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Facepalm

I would refuse to buy ANYTHING with built in Alexa

Most likely that Amazon chip will have built in wifi, so since they can't count on that from a typical blender etc., so it would be impossible to disable. Even if you don't program it with your SSID/password, it would be constantly trying to connect to something, so it would be only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to hack into it. Attacks against the wifi chips in Android & iOS phones were done a couple years ago, if you can p0wn a phone that takes security seriously you sure as well will be able to p0wn a microwave or blender.

I'm sure nothing bad would happen if someone was able to hack into my microwave and make it turn on and stay on with nothing in it. I'm sure nothing bad would happen if they were able to hack into my oven and do the same. Or cycle my blender on/off repeatedly, turn my refrigerator off, dryer on and so forth.

Unfortunately a lot of idiots are buying into this Alexa nonsense, so a lot more people would think of it as a feature than people like us who would see it as a negative, so appliance makers will probably be lining up to built Amazon's shit into their products.

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Re: I would refuse to buy ANYTHING with built in Alexa

"I'm sure nothing bad would happen if someone was able to hack into my microwave and make it turn on and stay on with nothing in it."

Well, I CAN attest that there was a thermal fuse in ours that blew after the potato that I'd intended to cook for 6 minutes was about 15 minutes into its conversion to charcoal. (Extra zero on the cook time.) But the oven was really never quite the same even after I replaced the fuse.

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Re: I would refuse to buy ANYTHING with built in Alexa

> Extra zero on the cook time.

Some microwave ovens provide superb examples of very bad UI design. Some have you press five buttons just to reheat a cup of tea for twenty seconds (and the sequence isn't in an intuitive order, either), when others have a two-knob design (power, time) that works well. Tech publisher Felix Dennis said that one of the joys of being a millionaire (besides the island homes, cocaine and attractive staff) is that every home he owned had the exact same model of microwave oven - so he wouldn't have to learn how to use a new one.

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Chz

Re: I would refuse to buy ANYTHING with built in Alexa

"Some microwave ovens provide superb examples of very bad UI design."

Some? How about most?

I swear there's a secret cabal somewhere, dedicated to ensuring that microwave UIs get progressively worse over the years. The technology itself has barely changed in decades, and yet every time I get a new one it's more difficult to use than the one it replaced. They've come up with *one* good idea in that time (press the start button multiple times to add +1 minute), and destroyed that benefit with several steps back elsewhere.

I used to be able to punch a power level with a dedicated button (one keypress), then key in the time I want and press Go.

Now I have to press power, twist a knob to the power level I want, press power again, twist the stupid fucking knob (GODDAMNIT I HATE THAT KNOB) to the amount of time I want, hopefully not anything over 3 minutes so I don't have to sit there spinning the damned thing, and then press start. And if I want to add time, it's only in increments of a minute - which is easily the difference between lukewarm and charcoal for some foods.

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Proctor & Gamble!!!!!!

WTF? They don't make appliances (afaik). They make soap powder. So now I get to talk to my box of Bold 3?

I'm too old for this shit . . .

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Re: Proctor & Gamble!!!!!!

The mega goods corp working with the mega retailer corp? That can only smell like bad news.

I don't think you will be talking to your box of Bold 3, I think you will be having a conversation with it.

All seriousness aside though; a washing machine where you load a cartridge of powder, and it re-orders when it is getting low and calls out an Amazon Maintenance Expert when it feels ill?....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Proctor & Gamble!!!!!!

All seriousness aside though; a washing machine where you load a cartridge of powder, and it re-orders when it is getting low and calls out an Amazon Maintenance Expert when it feels ill?.

That 'Expert' will take one look at your machine, take a deep breath and say,

"Sorry Love, we don't carry parts for that device. It is what? 15 months old. It is obsolete now."

Once you have recoiled in horror.

The 'Expert' will say,

"Perhaps we can interest you in one of these lovely new devices?"

"Other people just like you have bought this beauty"

etc

etc

etc

All part of the Bezos grand 'cunning' plan to rule the retail world. Sell crap and lots of it to people who have been brainwashed into believing that Alexa is your friend.

None of that shit is coming into my home and neither are any of the likes of Alexa or Siri.

Yours

Grumpy of Tunbridge Wells.

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Joke

Re: Proctor & Gamble!!!!!!

Be careful! When neither Siri nor Alexa have occupied your home, it could happen that a ragged, homeless and unemployed voice assistant called Cortana tries to sneak in. Best to have some voice assistant mock-up, a kind of scare-assistant in your house to keep those critters away.

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"register their interest"

I wish there was a way to register my disinterest, other than not buying any of this crap of course.

Sometimes I'm glad I'm old. Not always, there were some advantages to having a properly functioning body.

I know da yoof (proper Dad speak as I understand it) are entitled to enjoy and make use of things my generation don't 'get' (I did when I were a lad, sorry dad), but all this IoT stuff is mostly bunkum and insecure to boot.

Maybe one day it will be okay, but given the mission creep by companies wanting ever more detail about my life I doubt it.

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Stop

If it has Alexa inside, I won't have it in my house.

Even if they give it away free of charge.

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Anonymous Coward

'I won't have it in my house'

Maybe you missed the memo.. But your family won't have a choice! Wait until its mandated that every non-terrorist home must have one. Only kidding right? How long until China-2020 catches on:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_Credit_System

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Re: 'I won't have it in my house'

America has had this for decades. It's called your credit score. And it directly affect your social standing.

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"If it has Alexa inside, I won't have it in my house.

Even if they give it away free of charge."

I feel your pain, but next time your telly breaks beyond economic repair, have trying to find a new TV that isn't "smart" and may well have it's own WiFi or one of these Alexa chips inside it. And before you say that you'll never allow it to connect to your network, have a think about the Amazon Kindle "WhispaNet".

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Big Brother

Re: 'I won't have it in my house'

> "America has had this for decades."

No, they really haven't - the Chinese system is in a whole different league (as befits the world's preeminent slave labour camp). From Wikipedia:

"Once implemented the system will manage the rewards, or punishments, of citizens on the basis of their economic and personal behavior. Some types of punishments include: flight ban, exclusion from private schools, slow internet connection, exclusion from high prestige work, exclusion from hotels, and registration on a public blacklist."

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Thumb Down

First prize is one device with Alexa-on-a-chip

Second prize is two devices with Alexa.

If I ever buy something with this (which I would only if there is no other choice), it sounds like I need to use MAC address filtering on the Wi-Fi.

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Anonymous Coward

Funny how?

"Funny how during a press conference this week announcing the new internet-connected gear, which went on for over an hour, Amazon didn't mention data privacy at all."

_____

A World-wide anti-tech backlash / revolution can't come soon enough:

_____

GDPR 'belittling_contempt' - Net Results: Many US tech firms still dismissive of GDPR - The US attitude has always been dismissive towards EU privacy and data protections. I’ve sat through countless sessions at events in the US where EU protections that were supposed to be observed already under the former principles of Safe Harbour data transfer, and later its current replacement Privacy Shield, were discussed with, at best, mild annoyance and too often, belittling contempt.

This is is why I’ve always doubted that many US organisations took either seriously. And I know from talking to individuals who know the position at first hand, that, in practice, many haven’t. - Silicon Valley companies, in particular, are grossly underestimating their GDPR obligations. “Companies that think they can just block EU IP addresses and avoid the GDPR are kidding themselves. There are plenty of legitimate reasons for an EU user’s IP address to appear as if it is from outside the EU. As soon as that happens, the company likely has GDPR obligations.” -

_____

https://www.irishtimes.com/business/net-results-many-us-tech-firms-still-dismissive-of-gdpr-1.3489504

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Re: Funny how?

It's not so much the tech, it's all the goddamn spying and breaking things that aren't broke.

Best example: Windows 8 and 10 and the retail Internet and Dabbs' article about buying coffee.

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Anonymous Coward

'Amazon didn't mention data privacy at all'

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-09-21/amazon-s-alexa-soon-all-home-appliances-will-be-listening-in

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"Amazon probably wanted its latest new product presentation to be exciting. Instead, it scared me."

"The products Amazon is rolling out are all based on its Alexa voice-assistant technology. They include new smart speakers, a subwoofer, a gadget to put Alexa in cars, a voice-activated microwave and even an Alexa-enabled wall clock. If you installed them all, you would essentially be bugging all of your private spaces. Privacy wasn’t mentioned even once during the presentation, which took place just a few months after an Amazon Echo recorded its owners’ private conversation and sent it to a random phone contact; it misinterpreted words in the conversation as a succession of commands."

"What really worries me is that in the near future, I won’t be able to buy an appliance that won’t eavesdrop on me and send the information to an outside server at Amazon, Google or some other company."

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"Most consumers who willingly give up their privacy for the convenience of voice recognition don’t even realize the technology can work without opening up one’s home to round-the-clock eavesdropping, whether malicious or accidental. A small French company called Snips has been working for years on private-by-design voice recognition. Voice commands are processed on the end user’s device, making the data transfer unnecessary. The underlying artificial intelligence is trained without central servers"

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"U.S. giants don’t bother with the creative safety precautions because they’re interested in vacuuming up as much customer data as possible, and they figure consumers will snap up their gadgets anyway, thanks mainly to their next-to-unlimited marketing resources."

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Magic Leap

I guess Magic Leap are providing the hardware.

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Funny how during a press conference this week announcing the new internet-connected gear, which went on for over an hour, Amazon didn't mention data privacy at all.

That's because there is none.

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But it's *not* Alexa-on-a-chip

*That* might be useful -- a simple hardware solution providing self-contained voice-recognition and parsing, allowing all sorts of gadgets to accept input from a microphone as easily as a keyboard, without the risks of spaffing your entire life to a faceless corporate.

But this is the Alexa Connect Kit and reading right to left it is perfectly clear -- you have to do the hard work, to borg your device, to Mr Bezos' bank account.

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Re: But it's *not* Alexa-on-a-chip

I bet it's little more than a mic, an A/D convertor with DSP and a WiFi chip and some pins to trigger output signals/read back input signals. Maybe just enough processing power to respond to it's "wake up word". Everything else is controlled by the Borg.

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About time

we all develop interest and skills in maintaining things that work. Also vintage cars that do not talk to anything (or you). Given coffee disasters of Something for the Weekend this week where working networks were required for the simplest purchase, imagine the chaos a backhoe could cause. Perhaps the Amish have a point.

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“ Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence

I want zero voice interaction with dumb objects/corporations.

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A good chunk of the IoT gear out there is well secured.

The stuff that is rushed to be first to the market rarely is secure. The attitude is that they will either be a big hit and can think about security later, or fail and fully abandon the products.

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Funny, he same thing is said about nuclear power plants, yet it only takes just one accident...

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Anonymous Coward

IOT well secured??? WTF!

I did a little test recently. I setup a an OpenWiFi network that was totally air gapped from my home network which is really locked down. It wasn't connected to the outside world but looked as if it was.

I left it running for a couple of days and then looked at the logs.

Was there zero traffic? was there heck. Several IoT devices from next door but one had connected to it within minutes and were phoning home, or trying to every few seconds.

They were oblivious to the way their gadgets operated and really just didn't care.

IoT secure? Think again.

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Anonymous Coward

As I skimmed the article (very little interest) my eye caught ACK and the mental response was NACK. I think Im getting too old for this

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Mushroom

sorry Dave, the internet is down...

The microwave charred your meal, and I cannot order a new one.

I will power down

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Hrrrmm....

So what sort of safety interlocks would be required with devices like microwaves and other things capable of generating fire if abused?

Would Amazon be able to keep its firmware updated?

How would it connect into a home network? How would you pair a device to your network?

What sort of network access would it have to other devices in the house?

All this smart home crap.. I reckon router manufacturers are going to have to step up their game and start offering WiFi router APs with more granular permissions - "this device class may contact cloud X, and speak with other devices of type Y in the home, but is blocked from Z"...

I dunno.. the whole "smart home" thing requiring armies of servers in remote data centres, with all the associated electrical consumption seems counter intuitive. The only real benefit is the real time data acquisition the businesses can get from consumers through the pages-long clickwrap agreements.

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Re: Hrrrmm....

"So what sort of safety interlocks would be required with devices like microwaves and other things capable of generating fire if abused?"

All your waking ours will be spent monitoring your network connection for rogue devices and sleep or work time will require shutting off the house power switch to protect it while you can't. Progress, eh?

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Give it to me now Jeff!

I would love some of Jeff's IoT microwaves etc as long as he uses protection!

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Big Brother

Next comes the nailed up phone link

Amazon do a simple little deal with Google & Apple and smartphone begin providing an always-on silent network for these PoS to phone home. After all they don't need to know what happening in your home when all the phones are telling then you're somewhere else.

Find the Alexa chips (they will be very small) and then apply a hot soldering iron for about a minute.

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Big Brother

What a great way to ensure I never buy one of your products.

They may be acceptable to the dumb masses but I will never allow one of these spy devices in my home. A colleague got an Alexa for Xmas last year and brought it into the office, strangely it died before it could record any of my voice. He was warned.

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6 months

from now..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRq_SAuQDec

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Echo input?

If it's a connection kit doubt its much more/less than the contents of this with some assumptions about the functionality of connected kit in terms of integration support.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Echo-Input-Bring-Alexa-speaker/dp/B07CH6JKW3.

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What's so amazing about a small cheap chip or module incorporating wifi/bluetooth, a simple low power processor, some DSPs, maybe a Neural Net accelerator, I/Os for microphones and speaker, SPI/I2C/UART to connect to the rest of the system, some standalone firmware to provides a high level interface, and code samples on how to use that high level interface?

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No one here has heard of an ESP32?

It's a twin core, 32 bit micro-controller on a chip with built in RAM, flash ROM, WiFi and Bluetooth. It's cheap ($4 on a module or $2.80 for the chip alone) and can run the Alexa SDK. All Amazon need to do is produce their own native stack for it and the job's done.

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Pint

So does that mean if I get low on teabags I can tell my kettle to order me more tea so I can have a brew?

We need a cuppa icon.

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Mushroom

What microwave?

As long as my Primus® burner does not react to the command FIRE, I am safe.

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