back to article Amazon Echo: We put Jeff Bezos' always-on microphone-speaker in a Reg family home

So, um, I love the Amazon Echo. For those of you already frothing at the mouth in righteous indignation, please feel free to scroll to the bottom right away, click "Post a comment" and vent about privacy, Jeff Bezos' secret police, and whatever else is bothering. Meanwhile, for the rest of you, let's get straight to it: the …

  1. Tom Chiverton 1
    FAIL

    Won't this be fun when GCHQ learn of a remote exploit for it and decide to keep everyone unsafe by not revealing it...

    #smurf

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There's that

      but it also put me in mind of the quote "American's are amazingly easy to entertain".

      1. choleric

        Re: There's that

        P T Barnum (apocryphally) put it best:

        "There's a sucker born every minute."

      2. jeffdyer

        Re: There's that

        Americans.

      3. kierenmccarthy

        Re: There's that

        Side note: I'm not American, I'm English.

        1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: There's that

          "Side note: I'm not American, I'm English."

          Not anymore, you're not!

    2. Doctor_Wibble
      Black Helicopters

      by definition!

      It's a cloud service and therefore *is* a remote exploit, by design.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: by definition! @Doctor_Wibble

        What I would like is to have some of these services provided locally without involving the cloud.

        I was shown a demonstration of voice recognition using dedicated fourier transform hardware attached to a BBC micro in about 1984. I was shown a purely software voice recognition on an IBM PS/2 model 80 with a 25MHz 386 and 4MB of memory and 80MB hard disk in 1990.

        We're now 25 years later, and the computing power and storage capability in our smart phone or TV is vastly more than what I've seen work, so I believe that natural language recognition can be done locally. Give me an app that will read my local address book, calendar and other information stored on the phone, and let me choose when to get it to use remote services purely as information sources, and I might consider using it.

        Before the cloud, I remember SciFi writers talking about portable devices with AI in them. This is what I want, not some cloud overlord analysing my every move. My personal AI should work for me, not against or in spite of me.

        Of course it won't happen, because we are not being given what we want, but are being offered seemingly attractive carrots so that we can be treated as the product as we sign up to be profiled, advertised and sold to.

        1. Doctor_Wibble

          Re: by definition! @Doctor_Wibble

          Definitely agree! There's no reason the stuff has to be in the cloud, and whilst I don't recall the specifics, I do remember someone demonstrating voice recognition on a beeb to control a robot (or possibly a turtle). I think the recognition was quite fast, too.

          Certainly 30 years later the average modern device (even my old slab) has more than enough oomph to do this without batting an eyelid so I have no idea what amazingly clever techniques are now used instead that require an entire remote cluster. How did we manage to go backwards?

          And I also remember speech synthesis being very efficient too - even if not perfect, was entirely understandable and if programmed right, no silly pronunciations either - I remember we managed to grab the speech bit out of the Superior Software tape loader for Citadel(?). It even had 'ghoti' pre-programmed to stop smart-arses trying to break it.

        2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: by definition! @Doctor_Wibble

          I have been continuously refining my number one machine for voice recognition, operations, and various sorts of inference reasoning in preparation for a certain future as a quadriplegic. [Inoperable bone spurs shredding the cervical spine. US Navy shipyard accident handled very badly.) By happy accident, I got superior virtualization platforms and game machines, just as mi Amigas did righteous virtualization back in the day.

          Hardware is easy. Pretty damn expensive but I don't have anything else I spend on (family, girls, cars, ya get the idea ;-). The software is a devil's brew and despite years tracking the KM field, it still seems out of reach. Just. I for one would love a companion of the digital sort. Especially if it could be engaged in the KM of KM. Too many paywalls out there to do anything there.

    3. Lysenko Silver badge

      What always seems to get missed...

      ...in these discussions is that although we might get our sphincters in a spasm about "privacy" the existence of FacePalm, Twits and the vast number of NSFW "webcam" sites indicates that there is a substantial exhibitionist demographic out there.

      Such people probably don't want their bank accounts raided any more than anyone else does, but from "private" opinions to dietary habits to grumble pics, they go out of their way to broadcast to the world. Privacy as we construe it is therefore an anti-pattern.

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: What always seems to get missed...

        What I've always wanted, is simply the ability to pay for this stuff with money. But I seldom get that choice. For example, there are features of Cortana that I would very much like to use. Being able to speak to it and quickly add things to my calendar would be very valuable. However, I can't pay for the service, I have to sign over consent to read through all my txt messages and emails (amongst other things).

        Or best of all with Windows 10 where Microsoft seems to want me to pay with money AND privacy.

        Put some controls in place on this technology, ask me for money for it, and I'll be happy to do so. Unfortunately I think the sheer number of people out there who want / expect such services for free, seem to make me a minority market not worth serving.

        Btw, I did read the article not just skip down here to the comments to rant about privacy like the author suggests, and to prove it, did anyone else read the following bit:

        ...distrust turned to uncertainty; uncertainty to excitement; excitement to disappointment; disappointment to acceptance; acceptance to affection.

        and expect it to end with "I had finally learned to love Big Brother".

        1. largefile

          Re: What always seems to get missed...

          Amazon and Google are far more likely to profit from your privacy than is Microsoft. Stop living in the past and regurgitating the same old evil Microsoft stuff you have most likely been regurgitating for a decade or more.

    4. Tez B

      No escape

      Yes, this is chillingly Orwellian... but with updated uprated 21st-century neocon refinements. Not only are we being constantly monitored by 'them', we even have to shell out a hundred or two notes to a megacorporation to purchase our own 'telescreen' equivalents.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Won't this be fun when GCHQ learn of a remote exploit for it and decide to keep everyone unsafe by not revealing it..."

    Their back door is probably already installed. As soon as you provide location information then you can be tagged at any time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So, how will it work in my car?

      1. Evil Graham

        So, how will it work in my car?

        You need Cortana in your Cortina.

        1. h4rm0ny

          whilst you drive to the cantina.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    So....

    ...it's Cortana for Amazon then.

    1. hplasm Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: So....

      "Siri is a great app. I'm different. Cortana is a spooky bitch."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So....

      And should keep quiet and just go away and die.

      This move to have 'voice assistants' everywhere reduced even more the 'quiet time' that we have in our every busy and noisy lives.

      I think there was a report where someone in the USA shot their laptop because cortana jest kept on at the person to get out of bed.

      how long before some shysters file suit in order to get the likes of Cortana, siri etc declared a sentient being and have full human fights?

      No, no ,no , no , no I do not want this crap ever. That inlcudes if I am in a hospital bed and a quadraplegic.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So....

        Walk into crowd

        Announce 'Okay Google'

        "Ring Mum"

        Walk away

      2. Yugguy

        Re: So....

        I'm with AC.

        Why is there a perceived need to fill every single waking second with activity? The brain NEEDS downtime. When I go running yes I take my phone with me in case I sprain an ankle or something but it is on silent and will NOT be looked at until I've finished because I need and enjoy that hour where my brain is free to roam where it wants to.

        And as technology keeps replacing physical activity how long before we all look like the humans on WallE?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Unhappy

          Re: So....

          Sadly I do look like them, and I hink a fair few cometards do too

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: So....

            @lostyearsago This of course is enhanced by the fisher-price appearance of newer operating system GUIs...

            Alexa. Bring me another burger. :D

      3. Cryo
        Terminator

        Re: So....

        "how long before some shysters file suit in order to get the likes of Cortana, siri etc declared a sentient being and have full human fights?"

        This does seem rather dangerous. It's only a matter of time before these voice assistants get cybernetic bodies, and begin fighting humans. Even a room full of humans might not stand a chance when the robots have knowledge of each of their individual strengths and weaknesses. All powered by The Cloud.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

    I'm 47 and what you've described sounds like a small piece of hell to me, so I suspect we are from very different generations. Good tip about stubhub though - I've been mostly ignoring their ads all over the tube and just assumed they were eBay for tickets with similarly absurd prices. I will take a look.

    1. Richard 22
      Thumb Down

      Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

      I believe Echo has been particularly popular with the older generations, as it allows them to interact with technology and the internet in a natural, personal way, rather than via a computer. However I'm guessing that's not what you were referring to with your "different generations".

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

        I think you have a good point. I noticed the older crowd some years ago (in their 70's) embraced Bluetooth and cellphones long before anyone else did.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

          I noticed the older crowd some years ago (in their 70's) embraced Bluetooth and cellphones long before anyone else did.

          If you've had a mobile phone for longer than most people now in IT have been alive you have already had your share of entanglement with tethered headsets :).

          1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

            Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

            > If you've had a mobile phone for longer than most people now in IT have been alive

            Got my first one (Motorola Flare) when I worked at the company in question - and I left there in 1998..

            Sometimes I feel old.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

              If you've had a mobile phone for longer than most people now in IT have been alive

              Got my first one (Motorola Flare) when I worked at the company in question - and I left there in 1998..

              I had one of the early NEC P3s as first phone, because I liked the idea of a mobile phone but not the idea of having to lug around the Motorola brick and have everyone ask about it (mine lived inside my jacket, nice and subtle).

              1. Down not across

                Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

                I had one of the early NEC P3s as first phone, because I liked the idea of a mobile phone but not the idea of having to lug around the Motorola brick and have everyone ask about it (mine lived inside my jacket, nice and subtle).

                Brick? I was rather happy with Mobira Cityman 900 as it actually fit inside jacket unlike the Mobira Talkman (and similar Ericsson) I had before. I am assuming you were referring to Dynatac 8000 as "Motorola brick".

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

                  I am assuming you were referring to Dynatac 8000 as "Motorola brick".

                  Yup. My memory is definitely going :(.

        2. RHOmea

          Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

          That's because they can afford early adoption of higher priced tech before mass volume sales and competition drops the price. '-)

      2. Barry Rueger Silver badge

        Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

        "I believe Echo has been particularly popular with the older generations, as it allows them to interact with technology and the internet in a natural, personal way, rather than via a computer."

        Um, which older generations are those? I'm creeping up on sixty, and have worked my way through programming on punch cards, C-64, many versions of Windows, an Apple, and Linux, along with a couple of dedicated word processors.

        I know at least a few people over seventy who have a programming background, plus a lot of time spent doing graphic design and computer music composition on various machines.

        In fact, with the single exception of my 87 year old mother I don't know a single person over the age of 65 who doesn't have smart phones, computers, or tablets, and usually all three.

        We are the generation that invented, and grew up with personal computers. It's absurd to suggest that we are any less capable of using technology than you are.

        In other words, you can't complain about old people not understanding tech, and then also complain that they've taken over Facebook and Twitter.

        1. Loud Speaker Bronze badge

          Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

          You are slacking. My 88 year old mother currently has two iPads and a Macbook, and worked on an IBM709 (valves) and 7090 (same instruction set, but transistors).

          I grew up with Fortran manuals on the breakfast table.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

      Perhaps our views have been informed by science fiction... we have watched films in which people interact with disembodied voices. Most famously perhaps, HAL 9000 from 2001:Space Odyssey, or more recently Jarvis from the Iron Man films. The former is dangerous, because it was given poorly thought-through orders by human bureaucrats, the latter benign because it was built by its user.

      We also have Colossus: The Forbin Project.

      The original Cortana, from the Halo video games was a goody, but the game's developers Bungie have a history of using 'powerful AI gone haywire' as a plot driver (see 'Marathon'). In the video game, Cortana is a military ship AI, providing information pertinent to tactical decisions; in reality, Siri, Cortana et al grew out of research done for the US DOD to triage information for battlefield commanders.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "eBay for tickets with similarly absurd prices"

      that's pretty much what they are

    4. kierenmccarthy

      Re: Kieren, out of interest, how old are you?

      I'm 40. So half a generation. But I'm also a tech reporter so I have a high tolerance for these things.

      I'll be honest though, I did expect it to annoy me, or not be very good. Or be a bit creepy. I was pleasantly surprised, hence the review.

      Re Stub Hub. It still wants you to buy tickets but it acts as a very useful listings service. I highly recommend the StubHub music app. Just incredibly good at telling you what gigs are coming up nearby.

      Kieren

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does it come with subtitles for the hard of hearing or another thing where the world seems to be going the wrong way! (anyone notice that many companies only do phone and not email for customer services.. I guess it's so they have the recording and you don't for later lies but hardly an efficient, accurate or easy method)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "anyone notice that many companies only do phone and not email for customer services."

      Really? I'm pretty sure most are the other way round. It's about 30% cheaper to handle email queries than phone.

      1. King Jack Silver badge

        'It's about 30% cheaper to handle email queries than phone.'

        Not if you are in a queue on a premium rate number.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 'It's about 30% cheaper to handle email queries than phone.'

          Depends. If it's "regular" customer services, it's illegal to have it on a premium rate number. Only add on services can be this now.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: 'It's about 30% cheaper to handle email queries than phone.'

          "Not if you are in a queue on a premium rate number."

          If that happens to you, report them to OFCOM as that would be illegal.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Really? I'm pretty sure most are the other way round. It's about 30% cheaper to handle email queries than phone."

        Someone tell Virginmedia. They don't do email. At all. Even their web form submission only lets you select from a limited number of quite specific queries. You HAVE to phone up or use the online chat (limited to 9am - 5pm)

        (There may well be some email contact addresses, but try looking on their website and you won't find any)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Erm...

      (anyone notice that many companies only do phone and not email for customer services.).

      Call charges can be a nice little earner...

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Does it come with subtitles for the hard of hearing"

      That would be a tablet, laptop or desktop PC :-)

  6. james.aka.damingo
    FAIL

    You didn't ask the important question...

    "Alexa, are you here to kill John Conner?"

    I have previously had this response from Siri "Yes, I am here to do what ever you need." - I haven't dared to use Siri since (either that or the wife sold her fondle phone and got an android).

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: You didn't ask the important question...

      For that matter, why do these things need to be "branded" with silly names? Are they not clever enough or powerful enough to be customised to suit the user? Even my crappy SatNav lets me type in the word or phrase I choose to use to activate voice recognition. Maybe Garmin have patented that idea and Amazon/Google/Apple/Microsoft can't afford the licencing fees?</sarc>

      1. MondoMan

        Re: You didn't ask the important question...

        Re: Renaming

        As a happy Echo owner, that bothered me at first. With extended use, I appreciate having a short phrase that is *phonically distinct* from most conversation, music, and background noises. My Echo never triggers when I'm not addressing it, and almost always triggers when I do. Sometimes water running in the sink, or the Keurig machine heating up, block the triggering -- not sure if it's a relative command/background noise issue or something specific in the quality of those noises.

  7. SuccessCase

    "And lastly, who does it share this information with? With the third parties whose services it taps. In its own words: "When you use a skill, we may exchange related information with the developer of that skill, such as your answers when you play a trivia skill, your zip code when you ask for the weather, or the content of your requests."

    Knowing that may unsettle you. But just know that the exact same thing happens with Siri, Google, whenever you use a credit card, whenever you enter a competition, and whenever you sign a petition."

    Actually that isn't true. Apple have set out their stall re-privacy and it is MUCH stronger than what Amazon are providing. Of course on a service like Siri, there is going to have to be information they share, but in Apple's case the information is properly anonymised (as in they have very carefully considered how to remove secondary identifying information that allows users to be identified even on a statistical basis). Related personal data, (Post-code/zip code, contacts, location etc) is not sent in relation to identifiable user info and is only sent using a rotating anonymised identifier (and that is kept unique to that third party, so third parties can't compare and relate previously unrelated data). The "precognition Google now like" suggestion stuff that cant be handled this way, is all processed on the device. E.g. any recommendations, reminders, location prompts that are associated with personally identifying data are processed on the device not on Apple's servers. Indeed you could easily argue that with this latter point Apple are putting themselves at a disadvantage in relation to Google and Amazon because the average Jo doesn't give two hoots about where that data is processed, it's difficult to see how Apple's solution can deliver as good results, and most people, like this article demonstrates, believe they are doing what Google, Microsoft and Amazon et. al. are doing anyway.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Apple have set out their stall re. privacy and it is MUCH stronger than what Amazon are providing

      I think you're comparing different things. Apple does hardware, where privacy protection is a bit easier to establish, and although they derive a good income from services, their services do not really lend themselves for invasion of privacy because that's not where Apple gets its income from (so there never has been a point to build an infrastructure that makes mass surveillance easy, hence the single key problem that the FBI is complaining about). It's thus relatively easy for Apple to opt for privacy (well, within the rather limiting context of US law).

      Amazon is pure service, but they too seem to acknowledge that the client best uses encryption because they are legally not in a good position to defend your data, for reasons that will become much clearer once Microsoft vs DoJ reaches its inevitable conclusion.

      1. SuccessCase

        Not really, Apple provides Siri a personal agent, Amazon provides Alexa, a personal agent. One is a little more focussed on shopping both are strategic for and used for TV services and mobile devices. The article said Apple is doing the same as Amazon in terms of sharing your personal data with third parties. They aren't. Indeed the whole premise of the argument started with an acknowledgement of the issues and then went on to say, in effect, but we won't worry about it because if you worry too much you won't use any of these services as they are all the same re: your privacy. That simply isn't true. Love or loath Apple, there is no denying Tim Cook has made privacy front and centre to their strategy. They clearly see it as a weakness that Google has.

        Interestingly, I did a search for Apple and privacy and Google put up a big privacy banner advert at the top of the search results, saying "A Privacy Reminder from Google"

        I used Firefox, via my mobile tethering so it would be another address, did a search for privacy and a link to Google's privacy terms came up (top of the list above Wikipedia privacy - how can Google's corporate privacy policy be more important than the concept of privacy) but no panel giving a low down on Google's privacy policies.

        I've started to notice this more and more with Google. They appear to be targeting their own message about their own services in front of search results for search terms that clearly want to see competitor material. I've also noticed over the past two years - this is entirely subjective but worrying nonetheless - that if ever I do a search for a negative story about Google or Android that I have read, it quickly becomes much more difficult to find than negative stories about their competitors.

        One story that was very a couple of years ago was Chris De Silva, an lead Android developer, who said that when they were working on Android and Apple launched the iPhone, when they saw it, the feeling was they would have start over again. Put in the search words:

        "Chris da silva Android we had better start over"

        In the past, Google would find such an article and put it at the top of the list. Where is it now I wonder?

        put the same search term in Bing. What's top of the list? An article that is clearly the best candidate for fulfilling the search terms.

        This all very much raises the suspicion that Google simply cannot be trusted. It is precisely what the EU competition authorities have been worried about. It also makes a joke of their little targeted panel.

        I think these kinds of issues make the topic of privacy extremely relevant.

  8. LDS Silver badge

    Looks so like 1984 to me...

    1. tony2heads
      Big Brother

      1984

      Do I sense a thoughtcrime there, citizen?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 1984

        possibly, but if too near the bedroom it may cause a sexcrime

        1. Dr Andrew A. Adams
          Big Brother

          Re: 1984

          doubleplusungood

  9. Bc1609

    Multiple rooms?

    Thank you for the review - this is something I've been vaguely interested in and it's good to hear how it works in the home. However, if I were to use this I'd definitely want to run it in multiple rooms. For example, the ability to set timers and do unit conversions is great for the kitchen, but when I'm not cooking I don't spend much time there, and would like to be able to use it in the sitting room as well. Is there a way to extend its range via separate microphone/speakers, or are you expected to spend £200 on each room in your house?

    1. Ralph B

      Re: Multiple rooms?

      There is a $30 "Voice Remote" that's supposed to help with that sort of thing, but don't ask me any more details because I live in Yoorp and we're not allowed to have access to your highest tech. Yet.

  10. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Stop

    No

    See title

  11. auburnman
    Windows

    DANGER DANGER DANGER

    One word: Booze. They may need to limit making purchases after midnight so you don't wake up in the morning to find you've ordered a box set of Battlestar Galactica [classic] and the entire Rick astley back catalogue.

    1. Stumpy

      Re: DANGER DANGER DANGER

      I guess this requires the obligatory 1984 Bloom County strip:

      https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpa1/t31.0-8/12087307_1062183137145772_6705622885811331085_o.jpg

      [apologies for the Facebook CDN link, but I can't find the strip on Go Comics]

  12. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "Alexa, where is my bicycle?" - Parenting 101

    Of course the answer you want is "I don't know where your bicycle is," but what you get is "I didn't understand your request."

    The answer should, of course, be "Where did you leave it? Because that's where you'll find it."

    1. Linker3000

      Re: "Alexa, where is my bicycle?" - Parenting 101

      At least the answer isn't (yet), "Can't find your bicycle? We have a great selection of bicycles; say 'yes' and we'll have a replacement with you tomorrow."

  13. IvoryT

    "Fortunately after $1.29 spent on Frozen's Let it Go, we quickly discovered the ability to add a pin."

    Part of their business model, it's very deliberate not to require a pin from the start. Once a million people have done the same thing, huzzah ... $1.29 million in the bank.

  14. Mage Silver badge

    You can turn on the radio ...

    No you can't. Internet streaming might be a copy of what a broadcast station is sending. It uses traffic on your cap, 4 people in 4 rooms uses x4 data. Local stations may or may not be on it. Quality may be higher or lower, certainly limited by the Amazon Echo speaker.

    Internet also has no QOS for voice, music, video. That's why use my own ISP's VOIP as it's internal to their network and has QOS and security.

    Till USA laws are changed this is illegal usage of data in Europe. Rightly so.

    It's an interesting idea. I'd want to have glowing red Orb on the box and call it Hal. Pity you can't choose its activation "name"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You can turn on the radio ...

      Err? What?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Alexa, what's happening this weekend?"

    OMG, I must have it!!!!

  16. IvoryT

    OK, Amazon, now add some appropriate actions (though maybe not immediate full emergency services) to the following requests:

    "Alexa, there's an intruder in the house."

    "Alexa, my husband, he won't waken up."

    "Alexa, we're away for 2 weeks, if you hear anything please record it and alert us"

    "Alexa, my daughter has just swallowed 300 paracetamol tablets" (US=acetaminophen)

    "Alexa, (sound of ring-pulls) please ignore us until tomorrow morning no matter what we say."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sounds great but what is the reality?

      "Alexa, there's an intruder in the house."

      Alexa plays Intruder by Peter Gabriel.

      "Alexa, my husband, he won't waken up."

      I've checked my records. He's a man. That's what they do.

      "Alexa, we're away for 2 weeks, if you hear anything please record it and alert us"

      Welcome home. I have 336 hours of recorded sounds for you.

      "Alexa, my daughter has just swallowed 300 paracetamol tablets" (US=acetaminophen)

      Why did you have 300 paracetamol in the house? You need a licence for that many.

      "Alexa, (sound of ring-pulls) please ignore us until tomorrow morning no matter what we say."

      Five DVDs, three pizza deliveries and a taxi coming right up!

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        > Alexa plays Intruder by Peter Gabriel.

        Ahh. Fine music taste there!

        > Why did you have 300 paracetamol in the house? You need a licence for that many.

        Or a prescription. Like this one <waves prescription re-order form>

        > Five DVDs, three pizza deliveries and a taxi coming right up!

        You forgot the PVC/leather 'role-play' costumes..

    2. Allan George Dyer Silver badge

      "Alexa, we're away for 2 weeks, if you hear anything please record it and alert us"

      Thank you for registering with "BurgleMe", your details have been shared with burglary service providers in your area.

  17. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Optional extra

    Can you modify the wake up word?

    If I could start the conversation with "Hey Asshole", it would definitely be a win for me

    1. Credas Silver badge

      Re: Optional extra

      Indeed; one of the major irritations for me with Google Now is having to say "OK, Google". Rather than something more accurate like "Oy, Shitforbrains!"

      1. Nigel Whitfield.

        Re: Optional extra

        On the Moto X you can change the trigger, so it's a bit mystifying why they don't include that in stock Android.

        I have mine set to wake up when I say "Hey there minion"

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      Re: Optional extra

      "Baldrick!"

      1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

        Re: Optional extra

        "Baldrick!"

        God, yes, now THAT I would buy. If you could reconfigure any of these devices so they'd listen to a different name I suspect they would not be able to keep up with the sales.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Pirate

          Re: Optional extra

          "God, yes, now THAT I would buy."

          Coming Soon! New Amazon Echo Alert Names for the low, low price of only 99¢ each.

          I was going to put the joke icon then I realised what pirates Amazon are when it comes to opening your wallet.

    3. D@v3

      Re: Optional extra

      You might (might) be able to do that with Siri. When setting up the 'allow hey siri' function, you have to train it with your voice, so i guess, if during the training instead of saying 'hey siri' you said 'oi cockwomble' it might respond to that in the future.

  18. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Stays on the Kitchen Counter

    I removed a RasPi from the kitchen a few months back. Despite being in a specially altered case and having all holes plugged and protected it was barely salvageable after one year of kitchen residence. All contacts were oxidized, etc.

    That happened in a very clean and well maintained kitchen in a house where the only thing which is fried is chips and even that happens once in a blue moon, the extractor is working and has its filters replaced regularly.

    Looking at the way this has been built I have my doubts about kitchen use. https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Amazon+Echo+Teardown/33953

    There is no protection against spills, water, oil, etc vapor which is common in the kitchen can go through the side holes straight onto the motherboard.

    I give it an under 15% chance of surviving on an average kitchen counter for a year.

    Note - I would not use it for other reasons, but I would have expected el reg to at least do some research on its proposed use before writing articles.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Stays on the Kitchen Counter

      So one would need to tear it apart and conformal coat the mother and any daughter boards since the manufacturer decided to save a few farthings. Talk about planned obsolescence....

      I can't see this in my house and especially in the kitchen.

    2. MondoMan

      Re: kitchen longevity?

      Mine's been on my kitchen counter for 9 months now with no issues, and still plays Devo just fine.

  19. drand
    Trollface

    Four out of five stars.

    Oooh, you are mischievous.

    1. dogged

      Re: Four out of five stars.

      As good as an Apple Keyboard!

      says it all, really.

      1. VinceH Silver badge

        Re: Four out of five stars.

        Given the praise throughout the review, I got to the end thinking because the Apple keyboard got four out of five for such a crap review, this would be getting forty out of five.

  20. sgp
    Coat

    How to play audio over bluetooth

    "Alexa, I want to gain access to your lovely internals"

  21. Quortney Fortensplibe
    Trollface

    The automated voice isn't at all annoying...

    Oh. I bet it is. Really, really annoying. It just doesn't grate on you as much, as you're American too.

    1. kierenmccarthy

      Re: The automated voice isn't at all annoying...

      Actually I'm English but I have lived in the States for about eight years now so the American accent is par for the course. What I meant by not grating though is that the choice is measured and calm. It's just not annoying like old GPS devices used to be.

  22. Yugguy

    Can't be arsed to slide a finger down a list?

    Then we've got the product for you.

  23. This post has been deleted by its author

  24. jzl

    Monopoly

    It's not the privacy that bothers me, it's the monopoly.

    Capitalism works best when anyone can enter the market. Stuff like this just raises the cost of entry through the roof. The only people who can compete with Amazon here are the already enormous guys.

    1. AceRimmer

      Re: Monopoly

      That's true about many industries and products.

      I for one would love to get into the oil tanker business. Isn't going to happen soon though!

      With this at least, a smaller company could start off with a software only product and then move into hardware once they've established a user base. The hardware itself isn't difficult or special.

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: Monopoly

        >>"I for one would love to get into the oil tanker business. Isn't going to happen soon though!"

        That's not a great analogy though. If you've been buying oil tankers from BigShips.com it doesn't give you any special reason not to buy your next one from OilForYou.com if they enter the market and sell you the same for less.

        But with something like this or Cortana that's not true. They collect your data which you can't export to another provider creating a barrier to switching; and they also forge deals with their partners which others are prevented from doing. If you think Amazon / MS / Google / Apple wouldn't say to StubHub or whoever "we're a really big company and we'll pay a tiny bit extra per user if you don't also licence it to this new market entrant," then I suspect that's misplaced trust in big business. (N.b. for 'don't licence it' you can probably read 'price it too high for them' which is easier to get away with legally).

        1. Donn Bly

          Re: Monopoly

          While Amazon has a few partners like stub-hub already on-board with their products, there is nothing that prevents anybody else from developing a competing product. Amazon calls these things "Skills" as in you are adding additional skills/capabilities to their platform, and the SDK is free. They do require that you run a webservice back-end for it, and will even give you FREE hosting for the first million requests a month if you decide to use them for the hosting, but there is no requirement to do so.

          The "cost of entry" is actually quite low. If anything, having an open SDK actually DECREASES the entry cost.

          I am an Echo owner. Liked the first one I bought for home so much that I bought a second one for my office. It has completely replaced my alarm clock and radio, and I no longer use a computer for streaming music. I've also been playing around with its home automation capabilities, and have integrated it with a Samsung Smartthings hub where in turn all sorts of Z-Wave products can interface. So, if someone is at the door all I have to say is "Alexa, turn off the front door lock" and the magnetic lock on my front door is disabled for a few seconds, allowing the visitor to enter.

          If I wanted to add voice command recognition to my door lock without using something like the echo, the cost would be significantly higher. Even if I didn't already have the echo, or the zwave hub and contact closure, those items have a combined cost under $300.

          1. jzl

            Re: Monopoly

            " .... all I have to say is "Alexa, turn off the front door lock" and the magnetic lock on my front door is disabled for a few seconds ... "

            Right, I'm coming round to your place with a loudhailer and a van.

      2. jzl

        Re: Monopoly

        It is true about many industries. It didn't used to be true about retailing. That's the thing that I think is a shame.

  25. fruitoftheloon
    Happy

    I didn't expect that...

    Well, I am genuinely interested in this, part of the reasoning is that my short-term memory is f'ing useless and aspects of autims make organising some stuff VERYdifficult, I would love to give it a go, need to win the lottery first.

    Also when having any significant/properly private conversations, I imagine removing the power source should do the trick!

    Each to his/her own methinks

    Cheers,

    ja

  26. graeme leggett Silver badge
    Coat

    More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

    You: "Zen, what is the temperature outside" .

    Echo (or similar device): "Outside temperature is 12 degrees Celsius".

    You: "Zen, it's cold in here, is the heating on?

    Echo: "Confirmed"

    Mine's the one with a box set of season 1 in the pocket.

    1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

      Re: More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

      Don't forget the SFX!

      (bink)"Confirmed"(bok)

    2. Graham Marsden
      Happy

      Re: More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

      What about the Orac version?

      You: "Orac, what is the temperature outside" .

      Echo (or similar device): "Go outside and find out for yourself, I'm busy!"

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

        What about the Orac version?

        Damn, you got this one in before me.

        So if the device needs "fixing", do I need to develop Avon like skills and carry a combined tester, pen-kit and screwdriver in the sole of my boot?

        1. hplasm Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

          "So if the device needs "fixing", do I need to develop Avon like skills and carry a combined tester, pen-kit and screwdriver in the sole of my boot?"

          You don't already...? Get off to /. !!

      2. h4rm0ny

        Re: More customization desired in these voice powered assistants

        Or the Avon version: "That's an interesting question. Can a vacuum be said to have a temperature at all, or do we just consider it to be de facto absolute zero. Tell you what, why don't you float around outside for a while and see if you can tell the difference. I would suggest a spacesuit, but of course that would interfere with the experiment, wouldn't it?"

  27. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I have to admit that I've always thought the idea of 'Harriet' and 'Albert Einstein' from Larry Niven's Heechee series were rather cool. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like Echo is quite there yet :)

  28. Chz

    Missing a Channel 4/Humans tie-in opportunity.

    "I'm sorry Laura, I'm afraid I don't understand the question."

  29. Greg D

    Yes, yes, thats nice...

    ...but what the hell is it? What is it's purpose?

    I'm so confused.

  30. Peter Prof Fox

    Incredibly useful?

    One gadget to rule them all. Let's babble trivia. Gosh it can -- wait for it -- switch on the radio! It might be able to tell you where you can get a pizza, but try asking it where you can get a life.

    1. Hollerith 1

      Re: Incredibly useful?

      I can see for many people this will be a useful device, but I ran through a typical day, then an untypical day, and considered my tinnitus, and thought: this doesn't do anything better than I can do now and with more privacy, and it is yet another source of sound, which I don't want. I am sure I'm in the minority.

  31. jake Silver badge

    "Assuming that the company is not bald-faced lying"

    Well, there's your problem ...

  32. Yugguy

    Working

    I want it to respond with "Working", followed by that weird undulating computer sound.

    Although if it starts shouting "Redjack, redjack" at me I may run away.

  33. phuzz Silver badge
    Big Brother

    How to avoid the privacy implications of Amazon's Echo

    Just don't buy one. No one is forcing you, sheesh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How to avoid the privacy implications of Amazon's Echo

      I don't even want these fucking things around. Like secondhand smoke.

      Same applies to phones and laptops with mics/cameras/networking you can't physically turn off. Sure we've got a few, mostly for testing, but we're backing away from consumer tech until the privacy/usability issues have been sorted.

  34. Kevin Fairhurst

    Bit pricey in the UK currently...

    So based on the Amazon RRP of $180, and today's exchange rate, and add VAT, and you're looking at £140. So to allow for currency fluctuations, it will probably retail for £150 if released in the UK.

    Looking on Ebay, they're going for £230-240 for UK stock (i.e. it's already been imported). Even allowing for postage & VAT/import duty, that's quite a markup!

    Apparently most things work reasonably well, although it helps to have a VPN to hide the fact that you're in the UK. I think it would get a huge amount of usage in our house, and I would be all over it like a shot if it wasn't quite so expensive currently! Hopefully Amazon UK will start selling it soon so I can put it on my Christmas list :)

  35. kmac499

    Star Cops and Box

    Shades of 'Box' in Star Cops (a 80's SciFi TV Cops). Box was a small prototype AI pocket computer, that could link or hack into all the other computers and acted as the stars secret sidekick.

    The only real problem I can see with Siri, Cortana, Alexa or whatever, is that you can't use a trigger word of your own choosing or even change the voice\personality. I can do that with my SatNav. It just seems dumb that every device will respond to the same phrase in the same manner.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Happy

      Re: Star Cops and Box

      I want to go around to your house and snap: "Box - Maximum alarm!"

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Any hint of a UK release date? Looks like a few issues to work around (VPN, etc.) to use in the UK at moment otherwise...

  37. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    "Alexa, have the NSA installed the same software on you they probably have on my phone? You know, the one that turns the mic on even when the device is off."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      No Sir. We, I mean THEY most definitely have not. Sir. Thank you for asking. Have a nice day now.

  38. Amorous Cowherder

    As the reviewer said, is is any worse than using Facebook and Siri to name just two very invasive technologies. They're cloud connected, they analyze to death, everything you give them in the hopes of of selling you some service or product. If I'm going to be analyzed by a company, at least I might as well know which one, and a department store is not the end of the world. Would I have one? Probably not as I'm not that bothered about the sort of services it offers, especially as this seems to offer solutions to problems no one really has and seems to be technology for the sake of it. Still I can imagine they'll be common place in most homes within 10 years.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Any worse? Isn't "just as bad" bad enough?

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is a consumer product..

    .. because I have seen just how well voice recognition works when you're in an office. When you're writing some involved material, the last thing you need is someone close to you waffling out loud.

    We once had this when some sales guy wandered in and decided to use the tech hotdesks as the place to spend his time. It took all but two calls before we identified his number, and he spent the rest of his time cursing - the fax machine around the corner was trying to send him a blank sheet, a process which miraculously got restarted after the 10 try auto abort. Strange how that elevated the mood elsewhere :)

  40. John Savard Silver badge

    First Paragraph

    You begin the article with a paragraph condemning readers for jumping to conclusions... when concluding that the device is an audio version of the telescreen from 1984 is precisely what the title of the article is aimed at provoking.

  41. sjsmoto

    Some improvements that would nudge it into my purchase vision:

    Ability to have it contact 911. If something happens and you can't reach the phone, just being able to say "911" to have it get help would be great.

    Ability to have it listen while you're away for "odd" sounds. Like if you're at work and it hears the door opening and you know no one's at home, it would let you know there's something you might want to check at home.

    In a related feature, have the ability to turn on the mic and listen when you're not at home.

  42. Alister Silver badge

    I want one with Majel Barrett's voice, definitely.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Next time, try two of them.

    I would have liked to see two of them, positioned so they pick up each other, and then give a command somewhere in the middle. Just to see what would happen :).

  44. thomas k

    You said "speakers"

    Does that mean it has two and plays stereo? Or was that a misprint?

    1. thomas k

      Re: You said "speakers"

      Separate woofer and tweeter, so two speakers but not stereo.

  45. steward
    Go

    Volume granularity

    "volumes are not granular enough"

    I suppose they could make it 1 to 100, but until that happens... the feature exists manually by turning the top of the device, which acts as a giant volume control. ;-)

    1. MondoMan

      Re: Volume granularity

      good tip!

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Volume granularity

      1 to 11, surely.

  46. Borg.King
    Thumb Down

    Had one for six months

    It doesn't get used anymore. Glad I only paid $99 as an early adopter. If I can get it to play Radio 2 when an alarm goes off, then it might have some use.

    Spend your money on the new Apple TV instead.

  47. JustWondering
    Thumb Down

    Meh

    This sounds like a more annoying version of "Clippy".

  48. Zmodem

    im suppose to go piss in a cup and drive a forklift around amazon on monday, its not going to happen

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oblivious millenial

    Oviously written by some trustfund kid who has been coddled by authorities all his life and knows only sustained hedonism and narcissism.

    It is powerful, and we all know what power does to those in authority.

  50. OllyL

    Love mine

    As a brit abroad, I've really become quite enamored (yes, yes I know, US spellchecker) with the Echo. I loved that it was able to play all the CD's I'd bought off Amazon that came with autorip (about 90% of them) and with the amazon uploader thing, it let me upload the remaining 10% (mostly small release UK EDM). With the amazon prime membership, it's rare that it won't play a full song whenever it's asked. It took the echo about a week to understand my eldest son (~4.5 years old), and the adults it got pretty much on the first try. I picked up a couple of the Belkin WeMo switches and an Emerson thermostat which was compatible with it and it's worked nearly flawlessly with them. The iHeartRadio plugin is great, as it'll stream BBC Radio 4 quite happily without having the faff of VPNs to hit iPlayer.

    When I first got one, I did do the tinfoil hat thing and watched the traffic it generated through the firewall, and (at least in this firmware release), it does seem only to broadcast back to the mothership when woken (and the data volume is small enough that it's only the content of the question, not the last 10 hours since the prior question - unless Amazon have *really* sophisticated compression).

    Has anyone tried using one of these in the UK as yet? I've been debating getting my parents one for Christmas

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Love mine

      Hmmm, it only has one speaker with two tiny drivers - how can it play anything?

  51. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    WTF?

    I already have to talk to people, sometimes shout, to get them to do something. Now - talk to a machine too?? No way. Machines only understand buttons and switches and the only good talking machine is a dead one.

  52. Mike 137

    "And what resulted over time is this:"

    "distrust turned to uncertainty; uncertainty to excitement; excitement to disappointment; disappointment to acceptance; acceptance to affection."

    Exactly the process of hostage conversion - right up to Stockholm Syndrome

  53. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Clearly tastes differ

    But then that would defeat the great usefulness of the Echo: the ability to talk out loud and have it respond.

    I'd call that "the great annoyance of the Echo".

    I've had computers with speech synthesis since Vortrax-equipped 8-bitters in the mid-1980s, and speech recognition since OS/2 Warp. I've never felt any real desire to use either after a few minutes' exposure.

    It actively improves your life. You can simply ask for things out loud and get the answer.

    Perhaps this improves your life. I'd consider it an obnoxious and dreary interference.

    But then I remember when finding things out could be an educational experience of serendipitous discovery, or an occasion for illuminating and affirming conversation with others, and not simply retrieving a pat answer from a search engine.

    As for the applications mentioned in the article - no, I don't want to make any of those "easier" either, if I want to engage in them at all. (I don't give a rat's what StubHub thinks is "happening" this weekend. I know what's happening - I'll be spending time with my family, working on my house, maybe enjoying a little time out of doors.) The small effort I invest to participate provides half the value.

  54. Vadar

    Thanks Kieren

    I'm interested in the field so got one of the early units. Found it to be not all that useful. As one example, could not understand 'when is high tide?', no matter how much I tried to train it. You've given me some ideas, so I'll give it another go.

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