Is Alexa Always Listening? New Study Examines Accidental Triggers of Digital Assistants
The listening capacity of digital assistants like Alexa and Siri has become a major privacy sticking point in the last year. A group of researchers out of Northeastern University and Imperial University of London have been studying smart speakers for the last six months to learn more about what triggers them, and whether or not they are "listening" all the time.
The ongoing study found "no evidence to support" the possibility that digital assistants are always listening. The devices did get activated often in the study, primarily by words that sound similar to the phrases meant to wake them up — for Alexa, examples include words with "k" sounds such as "exclamation", "kevin's car" and "congresswoman" — but they only stay on for short intervals of a few seconds up to nearly a minute.
The researchers set up several smart speakers — a couple of Echos, a Google Home Mini, Apple HomePod and a Microsoft Cortana-powered Harman Kardon Invoke — and built an area where they could monitor and record when and how they were activated. The team played 125 hours of shows on Netflix with heavy dialog, including The Office, Gilmore Girls and Grey's Anatomy and recorded which phrases — outside of the traditional "wake words" — activated the devices.
The study found that the Echo Dot 2nd Generation and the Invoke stayed awake the longest, between 20 and 43 seconds. The rest of the devices had shorter activation period, with nearly half of them lasting 6 seconds or less.
While words that sounded like the wake phrases triggered devices, it was challenging to get repeat results. The team repeated its experiments 12 times, and only 8.44 percent of the activations occurred consistently.
The definition of "listening" in this context can get confusing, even for the people who make the devices. Under questioning on an episode of PBS Frontline last week, Amazon devices chief Dave Limp was asked how Amazon could convince millions of people to install "listening devices" in their home. Limp appeared to misstep when answering the question, insisting that Alexa isn't a listening device, before describing how it's "listening," then backtracking.
"I would first disagree with the premise. It's not a listening device," Limp said. "The device in its core has a detector on it — we call it internally a 'wake word engine' — and that detector is listening — not really listening, it's detecting one thing and one thing only, which is the word you've said that you want to get the attention of that Echo."
The question of how these virtual assistants are monitoring for wake words will become even more important as they spread to different types of Internet of Things devices, such as a smart ring and Alexa-enabled eyeglasses unveiled by Amazon last year.
Throughout 2019, reports surfaced that teams of employees at tech giants including Google, Amazon, Apple and more listen in to some audio clips of utterances made to their smart speakers to improve the digital assistants. Amid privacy concerns, the companies began allowing users to opt out of having their audio clips reviewed.
The report is only step one of a larger project. Future updates will look into how many activations lead to audio recordings sent to the cloud versus processed only on the device; whether cloud providers accurately show all cases of recorded audio; if the speakers adapt and adjust to what they've heard; and how the gender, ethnicity, accent and other factors affect activations of the speakers.
This story originally appeared on GeekWire.
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'Going Public' is a Fintech Spin on Reality TV and the JOBS Act, with Viewers as Potential Investors
If you've ever watched Shark Tank and wished that you could hop in the waters and invest alongside Mark Cuban and Mr. Wonderful, Going Public may be just the show for you.
The new series will showcase five companies preparing to go public on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Over the course of 10 episodes, viewers will follow the company founders as they promote their offering and receive feedback and advice from mentors, professional investors and other executives. Those watching at home who think they've spotted a winner will have a chance to get in on the action at the initial public offering (IPO) price for the companies that end up going public.
LA Tech Updates: Fisker to Go Public; LA Bars, Gyms and Salons Go Dark Again; Apple Gives $400M to Stem Housing Crisis
- LA Bars, Gyms and Salons Go Dark Again
- Fisker set to go public with $2.9b valuation, EV SUV to roll out by 2022
- Apple Allocates $400M to Affordable Housing in California
Southern California Bars, Restaurants, Salons, Gyms, Places of Worship Must Shut Down Indoor Operations Amid Surge in COVID-19 Cases<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQyMDM0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTEyNzMzOX0.iAGyu93QLg4u7of6jR5kB1LcjJs1dH_dlc2ndkknWGs/img.jpg?width=980" id="a7312" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="deb62c3b61d59ad6fe2da2d592929dd4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Image courtesy of Musso & Frank's<p> Bars, gyms, places of worship, salons and offices for non-critical sectors will largely go dark again in Southern California. As coronavirus cases surge, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a list of new statewide restrictions and targeted closures in 30 counties including Los Angeles. </p><p> Statewide, all bars, dine-in restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, museums, card rooms and entertainment centers must close indoor operations, Newsom said on Monday. </p><p> "This is a new statewide action effective today," he said. </p><p> <span></span>In counties on the state's watch list, which include Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties, personal care services including salons and barbershops, along with indoor malls and fitness centers must close indoor operations. </p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet">Effective immediately, CA is closing some indoor business operations statewide and additional indoor business operations in counties on <a href="https://twitter.com/CAPublicHealth?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CAPublicHealth</a> Monitoring List for 3 consecutive days.<br><br>📍Find the updated list of counties here: <a href="https://t.co/snYe5v55Rw">https://t.co/snYe5v55Rw</a> <a href="https://t.co/W3wBJp2ap5">pic.twitter.com/W3wBJp2ap5</a><br>— Office of the Governor of California (@CAgovernor) <a href="https://twitter.com/CAgovernor/status/1282754914821656576?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">July 13, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async="" src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><p> Those on the watchlist are among the most populous parts of the state, containing about 80% of Californians. </p><p> Restaurants are still allowed to stay open for outdoor dining and takeout. <br> </p><p> As of Monday, California had more than 329,000 cases and 7,040 deaths. </p>
Fisker Set to Go Public with $2.9b Valuation, EV SUV to Roll Out by 2022<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1MzYxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzAwMzU5MH0.KjTk7UCExD0E7jgdTCxdRO7pR0kI-TbtMYQgsD6_HJw/image.jpg?width=980" id="00531" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d9feb4bf17ba371882a99b14ebfa134a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Electric car startup Fisker is set to go public through a merger that values the company at $2.9 billion and allows it to begin producing its first vehicle by 2022. </p><p>Los Angeles-based Fisker <a href="https://www.fiskerinc.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Fisker-Press-Release-NYSE-Merger-Apollo-Spartan-Energy-FINAL-Sunday-1530PST-D360-FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">announced the deal </a>with Spartan Energy Acquisition Corp, a special purpose acquisition company backed by private equity firm Apollo Global Management on Monday. It comes as investors look for the next Tesla Inc, which has seen soaring valuation in recent weeks.</p><hr><p>The deal - expected to close by the end of the fourth quarter - will give Fisker more than $1 billion in gross proceeds to jumpstart production of Fisker Ocean, the vision of founder Henrik Fisker, CEO and chariman of the eponymous named startup. The arrangement spotlights the use of special purpose acquisition companies, known as a SPACs. Another SPAC enabled electric-vehicle startup Nikola Corp to go public last month. Nikola shares have soared since their debut. </p><p>The Fisker Ocean, which premiered at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year, starts at $37,499 and is being billed as the most sustainable vehicle, replete with a vegan interior and recycled carpet. Reservations for the either purchase or lease start at $250. </p><p>"This vote of confidence from investors, coupled with our exciting progress on the development of our first vehicle, lays out Fisker's path to 2022 and beyond," said Fisker, a one time Aston-Martin designer. <br></p><p>He <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/13/ev-startup-fisker-to-go-public-through-merger-with-apollo-backed-firm-at-combined-value-of-2point9-billion.html" target="_blank">told CNBC </a>that the agreement was the best way to get the line of vehicles produced, but said the company does not intend to build its own plant. While the EV market is expected to soar in coming years, startups struggle to find funding for the capital intensive demands of building a car. </p><p>"Our funding, product plans and brand development actions are on course," Fisker said in the announcement. "Prototype vehicles are expected to start durability testing by the end of this year, and we continue to make significant progress on the development of our sales and service proposition."</p><p>Fisker's previous venture, Fisker Automotive, fell into bankruptcy in 2013 and was bought by a Chinese group that rebranded it Karma. That company, which has been struggling after several layoff rounds and restructuring, <a href="https://dot.la/karma-car-2646367624.html" data-linked-post="2646367624" target="_blank">last week secured $100 million from investors</a>. It hopes to use that to raise a total of $300 million and roll out a line of electric vehicles.<br></p>
Apple Allocates $400M to Stem California's Housing Crisis<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ1Mzk5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NTcxMzA4NX0.K86VfE92hD0CjisMGk5r9Uc-uVxIrfDtuG4pHn1wbb0/image.jpg?width=980" id="9b774" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f9eea1ac10a1579d146be0552a48fec0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />white and brown wooden house during night timePhoto by Carl Nenzen Loven on Unsplash<p>Apple announced today that it has allocated its first $400 million toward addressing California's housing crisis. The Silicon Valley giant had said last November it would commit $2.5 billion to the effort over multiple years. </p><p>Apple first partnered with Housing Trust Silicon Valley in hopes of bringing affordable housing and mortgage assistance to the Bay Area. Now, they're expanding their partnership to California House Finance Agency (CalHFA), a state agency that supports renters and homebuyers in two ways: Their single family division allows families to apply for loans and work with loan officers directly to tailor a plan to their income. Their multifamily division helps housing developers apply for loans to create more affordable housing.</p><p>The funding is heavily concentrated around the Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, but cities statewide will be able to apply for their housing assistance in areas throughout the state where the company is present, including Culver City.</p><p>"Affordable housing means stability and dignity, opportunity and pride. When these things fall out of reach for too many, we know the course we are on is unsustainable, and Apple is committed to being part of the solution," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO, in a press release. </p><p>The company is dividing its financial assistance to have the broadest possible impact: $1 billion for an affordable housing investment fund, $1 billion for first-time homebuyer mortgage assistance fund, $300 million Apple-owned land for affordable housing, $150 million Bay Area housing and $50 million to support vulnerable populations.</p><p>The low-cost housing efforts will roll out over the next five years across the Bay Area, but two of the four programs are already underway.</p>
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