By on July 15, 2019

Amazon is striving to put Alexa, the home assistant/listening device, into more automobiles in the coming years. As a result, the company is working feverishly to enhance her vehicular-related capabilities — including wriggling her way into the embedded software systems of new cars.

On the surface, it sounds great. Networking your car with your smart home device opens up a bevy of new conveniences and Alexa should also help your car get better at understanding everyday voice commands. In the future, you’ll be able to order groceries, check the stock market, call the office, and adjust the thermostat of your house and car without ever having to take your hands off the steering wheel. But this also opens up a bevy of concerns, now that we know Amazon’s employees listen to and record pretty much everything you say to the device — sometimes doing the same for background conversations that were never intended for Alexa’s ears. 

Officially, this is being done so Amazon can fine tune the system and make it better equipped to handle complex voice commands. But, unofficially, it’s super-duper creepy to think that 100 million people have voluntarily bought a corporate listening device that’s now angling to get inside your automobile. That’s not to point the finger at Amazon specifically, as any networked device with a microphone is capable of similar shenanigans. But Amazon’s Alexa/Echo have been the ones getting the most press for listening in — with Google receiving  similar attention after leaks surfaced in Belgium.

While you can adjust your privacy setting and have your voice recordings deleted, Amazon does not do away with the the text transcripts of whatever you’ve said. That doesn’t really address the existing privacy concerns as no one seems to have an a definitive answer as to where the information goes, how its stored, and who gets to see it. While nobody here is suggesting it’s being intentionally collected for nefarious purposes, at least not by Amazon, it certainly could be in the future.

Amazon has basically said it needs to be able to do this to make sure its AI system continues getting better and tries to keep things anonymous. Google agreed. “As part of our work to develop speech technology for more languages, we partner with language experts around the world who understand the nuances and accents of a specific language,” David Monsees, product manager for Google Search, said in a blog post on Thursday. “These language experts review and transcribe a small set of queries to help us better understand those languages. This is a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant.”

He also said employees only review around 0.2 percent of all audio snippets captured and are “directed not to transcribe background conversations or other noises, and only to transcribe snippets that are directed to Google.” That still means they can hear them, even if they’re not supposed to be actively listening. That’d be a little easier to endure if Google wasn’t already a gigantic company mired by accusations of political bias and unwarranted censorship.

In the automotive sphere, Amazon starting working directly with OEMs in 2016. The company said it would eventually like to see Alexa to become ubiquitous. “The real North Star for us is to be embedded with all the cars,” Ned Curic, vice president of Amazon Alexa Automotive, told Automotive News this week. “That’s where we want to get. We’re working very hard to get there because we believe that is the best experience.”

From Automotive News:

Curic declined to comment on how many automakers Amazon is in discussions with about embedding Alexa into their vehicles but said consumers should expect “a significant number of vehicles having access to Alexa” in the coming years.

Audi and BMW Group, including the Mini brand, are the first to begin installing Alexa into their vehicles’ software system. 

While the German’s have already pulled the trigger — you can buy Alexa-equipped cars from both BMW and Audi — other manufacturers have already expressed an interest, added Alexa/Echo by other means (e.g. Ford, Hyundai, GM), or previewed similar systems without Amazon’s involvement.

 

The benefits are obvious. Truly effective voice commands free up drivers from having to interact with a potentially distracting screen. That’s important for safety reasons and also opens up more opportunities to shop while driving — likely making automakers and their partners a lot of side cash as they switch to a mobility/tech business model. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a good way to protect people’s privacy as this takes place. The very nature of these systems involve insane amounts of data acquisition, some of which will undoubtedly be leaked, stolen, or sold, and there’s no way around it.

How freaked out do we think you should be? Maybe a little. But the fact remains that a car transmitting your conversations out into the either is probably not as big of a deal as your phone/house doing the same. We just hope automakers don’t attempt to make this standard equipment — otherwise, we’re betting vintage cars will become all the rage with a large subset of shoppers who value privacy over convenience.

 

[Image: Ford Motor Co.]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

33 Comments on “Listen Up: Amazon Putting Alexa Into More Automobiles...”


  • avatar
    Fred

    When I’m driving, I’m not thinking about my grocery list. I also don’t buy coffee from Amazon. I’m not keen on having one of these assistants in my house, and putting it in my car is even a lower priority.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      They’re actually a good bit of fun and mildly handy for little things. My father and sister both have Alexa and I’ll ask it the weather, to read the day’s news headlines, or just have it schedule an alarm. I could see some of its functions being a blessing inside a car, especially if you’re the sort who has an extremely long daily commute. But I’ve no interest (car or home) — and not just because of the privacy concerns.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    Not only cars I wouldn’t buy, but this means there are cars I would be unwilling to rent.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “On the surface, it sounds great.”
    “The benefits are obvious”

    I don’t think we are on the same page here, Matt.

    “opens up more opportunities to shop while driving”

    I don’t have major privacy concerns. I do have major “this will be f*cking annoying” concerns. If my car ever starts playing Pepsi and Applebee’s ads at me then I’m out.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      I’ve already covered that repeatedly on GM’s Marketplace, Honda’s Dream Drive, and more. I don’t think Alexa will make that particular aspect any worse but I do agree that in-car advertising is about to get truly wild. Numerous automakers are trying to incorporate gaming elements within the multimedia interface and always-on internet connectivity is a given at this point. Vehicular marketing could get pretty grimy in the future if we allow it to. That’s half the reason I write these types of articles.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2019/01/honda-dream-drive-in-car-shopping-marketing-gamification/

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2019/06/bmw-phevs-will-incorporate-gamification-automatically-switch-to-ev-mode-in-2020/

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/09/safety-advocates-getting-testy-over-automotive-apps-consumer-data

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I recently saw a box truck with the sides and the rear door as giant displays. Can you imagine being stuck behind this thing in traffic and bombarded with the same ad rotation for an hour?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          @mcs… loling because I’m thinking of the trucks in Las Vegas that ride around advertising the gentleman’s clubs.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            This thing had the displays on 3 sides and they looked like 4k displays. I’ve seen trucks with static displays on two sides, but this was the first time I saw monitors on three sides. These things were huge jumbotrons.

        • 0 avatar
          Matt Posky

          Absolutely. I drive in Manhattan often enough to have experienced it first hand and actually piloted one of those ad trucks myself eight years ago.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            This was different from the ad trucks I’ve seen. 3 sides, not 2, with one rear-facing, and they weren’t static displays.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Of course, you could really, really mess with an autonomous vehicle with one of these trucks. The possibilities are endless!

  • avatar
    mcs

    I have a beta version and it’s independent of any OEMs. The speech recognition is fantastic and even handles wind noise with the windows down. I really don’t give a crap about people listening to what I say. I’m not involved in any sort of crime and don’t care. Besides, there are plenty of ways to snoop on people without bothering with Alexa. I also know how to disable the thing if I need to. A big button kills the microphone and I can always switch off the power.

    One of the best features is selecting music. Just call out an album, song, or artist and she plays it. The home control is good too. It requires a code before it unlocks or opens doors or gates. It works with waze too for navigation. I have the ability to add vehicle status, but I have to do it myself and haven’t had time. The shopping thing is good. I’ve been taking advantage of one day free shipping in my area and if I think of something I need, I can verbally order it. Text send and receive works well too. Totally by voice. You can also connect to the alexas in your house and have two way communications. Other neat tricks are continuing to listen to the same music on your devices or in your house when you leave your car.

    I like it and don’t care about privacy issues with it. I just don’t want to be responsible for the long-term mental health care of any Amazon employees forced to deal with the boredom of listening to me. It lets me keep my eyes on the road and makes life a little easier. If I want privacy, I can do it. So many other ways of spying on people that an Alexa is least of your worries – if you worry about that sort of thing.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “and I can always switch off the power.”

      If it is integrated into the vehicle’s infotainment (as shown in the BMW ad) I don’t see how a person will be able to turn it off.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        That’s true, but I have separate power for the unit I have. I can pull it.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          Your callous disregard for privacy is music to Alexa’s ears. Anybody who is ok with an open mic in their house or car is out of their mind. If this was in my car I would open up the device and snip the wires to the mic if it had an override switch maybe there might be value but open? No effen way. And yes the camera on my laptop is covered with tape
          And I use Duck Duck Go as my first search engine. I only Google when DDG fails

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            If I want, I can go into SCIF mode. I also have the ability to detect any listening. But for example today, the only thing that’s been said in the house was me asking the dog if he needed to go outside – and he only responds by going to the door. Never says anything. In the car, I asked for a couple of different albums. Nothing exciting. I had music playing in the car, so there was the music lyrics. I had the news on at one point.

            I honestly can’t figure out what information someone would get by listening through Alexa that couldn’t be much more easily obtained by other means. I could probably analyze peoples posts here on TTAC and learn more about them than eavesdropping. It’s amazing how much information is dropped here that could be assembled later if someone wanted to mine it. Little fragments here and there that can be cross-referenced.

          • 0 avatar
            civicjohn

            @golden, +1. I use Siri occasionally, have Apple CarPlay, but I actually think Apple is not as much of a bad actor as Amazon with respect to eavesdropping, maybe I’m wrong.

            I was about to pull the trigger on another TV today from Amazon Prime, but no Alexa. I’ll get a Roku stick, thank you.

            I’ve worked with Apple, Google, and Spotify with respect to getting artists paid for streaming. They all have different “perceived” levels of what they think is private and what isn’t, but I’ve never been burned in my 30+ year relationship with Apple. Call me a fanboy, both kids have iCloud, pads, phones, laptops, they’ve always been good to me and I’ve yet to have a breach. Quit FaceBook in 2007, mandated DDG in my offices many years ago, I guess we have to assume that we have already left a ton of bread crumbs out there with respect to personal information. That doesn’t mean that I still need to add to the deck. FB and Google will face some government intervention at some point, it’s just that most in government don’t even know where to start.

            I recommend the book “Zucked” for those who want more info, author is an early investor in FB, far, far, left, but can’t believe what has become of the company.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      “I really don’t give a crap about people listening to what I say. I’m not involved in any sort of crime and don’t care.”

      So you’re one of those. What’s the old communist adage? “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.” Your conversations may not be criminal now, but you never do know given the political proclivities of some in this country. Assuming you’re in the US of course.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        We already live in a world where men are inherently evil but gender is a societal construct. People who don’t think their words can be weaponized against them are the frogs in the pot.

        • 0 avatar
          bunkie

          ToddAtlasF1-

          We don’t often agree, but I’m with you on this one. What concerns me is that Amazon is very closely tied to Chinese suppliers. It recently came to my attention that the Chinese Communist government is, very likely, creating citizen profiles using their social citizen score to non-Chinese citizens, basically anyone who buys their products. So, if they can tie you to your Facebook posts criticizing, say, their annexation of the entire South China Sea, you might find that you can’t buy that product you wanted or, worse, the software that you get with it has been “enhanced” to provide them with even more information on you.

          This sounds paranoid, but we have already lost the battle on cookies. Most sites (including this one) *require* tracking cookies on your devices.

          I won’t own an Alexa device, period.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Amazing how wholeheartedly people are embracing the telescreen.

    Of the big tech firms that are playing in this space, Apple is the only one that’s even sort of tried to be clear about when and why it will eavesdrop. And even with that, I want Siri off on my phones and Macs. No Alexa or Google Assistant is allowed in any of my family’s private space, including home and cars.

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      No doubt in addition to targeted advertising, the latest traitors to the Party under the influence of Emmanuel Goldstein will be displayed for the edification of the proles.

      This all sounds like yet another reason to stick with older models. I’m sure the people who love this stuff will continue screaming “I have nothing to hide!” as Big Data decides that their pattern is suspicious and puts them under investigation.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I’d be concerned about it randomly ordering things because it thinks I’ve requested it, although I am a fan of telling my sister-in-law’s Dot to go truck itself.

    I’d be interested if I could get the VR to work well enough to respond to messages. Often I try numerous times and finally give up, having to respond when parked. Mrs. Mazda and her Mistress Google are half-wits even if they’re better overall than Mrs. Sync. Road noise and wind noise completely flummox Mrs. Mazda and Mistress Google.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    I don’t want this.

    Period.

  • avatar

    On the one hand I would like to have well informed companion during my long commutes to talk with and discuss various topics like the new development in quantum gravity or latest album of Crimson King.

    On the other hand how I can be sure that Alexa with not report me to The Government regarding my views e.g. about climate change or collusion. 1984 all over again. I thought communism ended with fall of USSR. Boy was I wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      SaulTigh

      All it took was a housing crisis, a new generation of young and ignorant people with limited experience and worldview, with social media to bring all the collective insanities of the world together and Communism is back, baby!

  • avatar

    I’m no luddite, but under no circumstances do I want Amazon or Google to bug .my home or car 24/7. There was an Amazon commercial where dad drops girl at college, and leaves her with an Alexa if she needs anything. I was appalled on a few levels….I really, really want Amazon listening to my kid’s profound conversations at 2 am…and know when she comes and goes….and what she buys, and when. Sure, let me deliver this consumer to you on a platter, like any good dad…..

    Actually read those click through agreements-you’d be amazed. I even found out I could opt out of my cable company marketing….but the only place the web address was found was page two of one of those -designed not to be read- disclosures. I tried to find it on the normal company web page, searched for it, etc, and it was literally nowhere to be found on the normal page…you had to type in the address from the tiny type on page 2 of four pages of “agreement”. We can bug you at any time is the short answer for any of the click throughs, along with “we may at time to time share with our partners….”

    In my car ? No Thanks, I use waze sparingly for this reason as well….

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Anyone who pays money for the opportunity to have a wiretap from some corporation sell their information for even more money…they are inarguably the 80% sheep that the 20% wolves devour.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Anyone notice the plethora of Alexa ads being served on this page?

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    I don’t buy the reasons for the recordings. My base model u-connect does voice commands just fine and I am sure those could be expanded to whatever. Dragon and Via have done voice diction for decades.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Does it come with direct link to FBI cloud storage?

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    “Alexa, give the finger to that guy who just cut me off….”.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Inside Looking Out: If you speak Russian – 100%
  • EGSE: @Speedlaw “wears out after a certain number of read-write cycles” That sounds like flash memory...
  • Inside Looking Out: “I’m loath to say it, but this 2019 BMW X7 is worthy of the badge.” I would rather...
  • ajla: “it’s not like you can go somewhere else and get a V8 in an off-road-type SUV.” There’s still...
  • Carlson Fan: “You know a simple tuner will turn the AFM off right” Yep got one in my 2007 ‘Hoe but...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributors

  • Timothy Cain, Canada
  • Matthew Guy, Canada
  • Ronnie Schreiber, United States
  • Bozi Tatarevic, United States
  • Chris Tonn, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States
  • Mark Baruth, United States
  • Moderators

  • Adam Tonge, United States
  • Corey Lewis, United States