Hey, Siri (and minimum wage contractors) … 

From: Siri records fights, doctor’s appointments, and sex (and contractors hear it) | Ars Technica

These cases bring up a series of questions. What can Apple and its colleagues do to better protect user privacy as they develop their voice systems? Should users be notified when their recordings are reviewed? What can be done to reduce or eliminate the accidental activations? How should the companies handle the accidental information that its contractors overhear? Who is responsible when dangerous or illegal activity is recorded and discovered, all by accident?

Now it looks like your Siri voice recordings can be heard by contractors roughly 1% of the time.

I think my issue with all of this is that it’s not opt-in other than the “by using this software you agree to …” BS all tech companies shove down our throat. I think one solution to this problem would be to allow users to opt-in to have humans review your recordings as long as they are properly anonymized. There’s still a chance an accidental wake word could trigger some of the scenarios mentioned in the article but at least give folks the ability to make decisions about how much they want to contribute to making these voice assistants better.

I’ve turned off the “raise to talk to Siri” on my watch long ago but we do have Google Home devices in our house and “Hey Siri” is still activated on my phone. I could shut off the wake word functionality on my phone but I’m not even sure you can do that with the Google Homes. I’ll be honest, I’m starting to lean toward yanking most of the voice assistant stuff out of my house in favor of dumb speakers hooked up to Chromecasts or maybe just going full Sonos (although that has it’s own privacy issues).

Update: Looks like Apple is halting the program for now and will be adding a way to disable this in the future. Good for them.

Ghostery and the ethics of blocking ads

Marco Arment, talking about the ethical dilemma of using ad blockers:

I recently started using Ghostery on my computers, and a simple homemade iOS content blocker that I may release for iOS 9’s launch. The web performance improvements with these are staggering, and the reports of quite how much Ghostery is blocking on most pages is shocking and disgusting.

I struggle with the similar ethical quandary. I have been using Ghostery for a while as well, and I’ve decided to allow Google, the Deck and a few other Ad publishers through. I want to support sites if they have chosen an ad-supported model as long as they do it in a moderately tasteful way. But to me, web tracking and retargeting is a bridge too far.

What’s great about Ghostery is that it allows you to choose to either block all 3rd party trackers/ads or specific ones, and you can even choose to do so one a per-site basis. This lets me show ads from certain networks I know of and ‘trust’ on some level, while blocking all of the shadier services. It’s a simple add on for Chrome, Safari or Firefox and it dramatically decreases the load time on most web pages, and gives you some level of peace of mind.

As others have pointed out, trackers and ads nowadays aren’t just something you can simply ignore. It’s code, executed on your machine and dramatically slows down the load time of an average web site by a few seconds most of the time. This has costs in terms of time, bandwidth, privacy and even on an ethical level.

I’ll keep tweaking my Ghostery settings to let some types of ads through, but undecipherable tracker names with no obvious benefit … you’re on notice.