When she wakes up in the morning, Maren Biermann seeks advice from Alexa. At the weekend, when she can stay in bed a little longer, she asks from the bedroom how the weather will be. During the week, on the way to the bathroom, she asks how long it will take to get to the office. And as soon as the name Alexa echoes through the apartment, the upper edge of the black box glows turquoise-blue. A little later, Alexa says that it will be warm. Or that traffic is jammed in downtown Düsseldorf.
Alexa is a virtual roommate that the technology company created to bind its customers more closely. Another device that millions of people trust with their thoughts, habits and feelings. Consumer advocates see the end of data protection approaching with it. Maren Biermann, tall, sporty, sees Alexa primarily as a toy.
The 32-year-old is not alone in this. The company has sold an estimated eleven million boxes worldwide that Amazon has christened Echo. “We haven’t had a product that has been in demand anywhere near as much as the Echo boxes in a comparable period of time,” says an Amazon manager. According to a representative survey by the data service provider Statista, over 40 percent of Germans find such a voice-controlled assistant attractive. And this despite the fact that the Forsa polls determined two years ago: Not even one in three Germans trusts technology companies to handle their data carefully. Retail groups, insurance companies and the tax office ranked significantly higher up in this ranking.
This is how it works …
Echo is available in two formats: The large box, which costs 179.99 euros, has a two-way speaker system. The more compact Echo Dot costs 59.99 euros. Both have excellent voice recognition that works several meters away, as well as WiFi networking with the Alexa bot. After signal words such as “Echo” or “Alexa”, the box picks up voice commands and transmits them to the data center, where Alexa researches the answer and sends it back. If you want to prevent Echo from always listening in, you can turn off speech recognition. assured that microphones would be completely disconnected from the electricity.
The Germans, of all people, who suffered total surveillance in two authoritarian regimes – in Nazi Germany and in the GDR – voluntarily put the perfect tool for eavesdropping in their living room. Why? Because the tech companies make their customers dependent on them with increasingly sophisticated strategies. And because it’s all a question of psychology.
The careless handling of data began with Googling for information and shopping online, which was so much easier than rushing through congested streets and supermarkets. Then came the social networks. At first people only left a few keywords, then embarrassing photos, they posted political opinions and personal bests during the evening jogging session. Ultimately, the smartphones became a helper in all situations – and knew even better about their owners.
Everything you always wanted to know from Alexa …
Let’s say you don’t get Orwellian nightmares about bringing a microphone into your apartment and buying an Amazon Echo. You have unpacked the device and want to start. The factory setting is the “alarm signal” for Alexa – “Alexa”. You can only start once you have said this magic word.
Additional information for Star Trek fans: You can change this “wake-up word” – in addition to “Echo” and “Amazon”, “Computer” also works – the term that Captain Picard also used when he wanted to operate the Enterprise’s on-board computer. This is said to have served as a model for Alexa.
Alexa, like Microsoft Windows, has various user accounts (household profiles) or profiles. That makes perfect sense, for example with user-specific preferences such as music: If you like Verdi but your daughter prefers heavy metal (Alexa accesses your Amazon Music files or, with the appropriate skill, also Spotify), or You and your partner have completely different tastes in literature (Alexa also manages your audio books). Since the user can also shop at Amazon via Alexa, several Amazon profiles can also be stored so that, for example, your son’s new Kollegah album is not billed to your account. You can ask Alexa: “Which profile is this?” Or give her the command to switch accounts: “Switch accounts.”
Speaking of music: This is one of Alexa’s great strengths. You can control the music playback: “Alexa, play”, “Stop”, “Back”, “Pause”, “Next” (and so on). But Alexa can also answer more sophisticated questions: For example, “Alexa, what’s going on?”, “Turn it up”, “Turn it down” or “Alexa, set a sleep timer in 20 minutes.”
Alexa has access to Amazon Prime Music, there are also commands for this: “Play some Prime Music to relax.” Or “Play Prime Music to dance.” Alexa not only recognizes music moods, music genres can also be controlled specifically: “Play jazz from.” Prime Music. “Alexa not only has access to Prime Music, Internet radio stations and the music streaming service Spotify can also be controlled:” Play ‘Pop’ from Spotify. “
Alexa can also play audiobooks – from Audible -: “Play the audiobook.”, “Next / previous chapter.”, “Go to chapter 3.”, “Continue my audiobook.”
Probably particularly interesting for German Echo buyers among the many sports leagues about which Alexa has information available: the Bundesliga. Questions such as “What is the game result for Schalke against Dortmund?”, “What is the situation at ‘Mönchengladbach against HSV’?”, “Has RB Leipzig won?”
If you tell Alexa where you work and how you usually get there, she’ll help you get there on time. Then you can ask the program: “How is the traffic?”. If Alexa reports a traffic jam on your route, you can simply bypass it – or switch to bus and train – of course only after you have asked Alexa beforehand with the right skill about the cheapest timetable connection.
If you have decided that you would actually much rather ride your bike to work today, simply ask Alexa about the weather: “How will the weather be in five hours?” Of course, the forecast does not only work for the same day: “Will it snow tomorrow?”, “How is the weather in Cologne?” Or “Will it rain on Sunday?” Also work.
Alexa can also keep you informed about the latest news – for example via “What’s new?” Or “What’s in the news”? If that’s not enough, Alexa’s source of information can also be personalized using the skills of various media.
Well, you have now been briefed on the news, the best way to get to work and whether to put on rubber boots because it is raining. You also have the right music or an audio book with you for your commute. But what is actually going on today? Ask Alexa! “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”, “Alexa, add” shopping “to my calendar for Friday, February 17th at 6:00 p.m.”
Alexa can also help you with shopping. She doesn’t drive to Rewe (or Edeka) for you, but you can use her to create a shopping list, add to it or delete things from it: “Add ‘wine’ to the shopping list.” And of course you can ask Alexa what you wrote down have: “What is on my shopping list?” Alexa also records other tasks for you – such as getting your wife a bouquet of flowers for her wedding day. In that case, however, it would be good if you are already familiar with account management – otherwise you will accidentally put it on your wife’s to-do list.
It’s good that you thought of the wedding day – or asked Alexa to give you today’s date (“What’s the date?”). It can do that, just like waking you at a certain time (“Set the alarm clock to 6:00 a.m.”), distinguishing between the weekend and the working week (“Set the weekend alarm clock to 9:00 a.m.”) and tell you what time you set the alarm clock (“What time is my alarm clock set?”).
To stick with the wedding day: How about a little romantic mood in the evening? Alexa can – provided it is networked with other intelligent devices in your household – for example dim the light (“Dim the light in the dining room to 50 percent”), switch on the coffee machine (“Switch on the coffee machine.”) Or the temperature in lower the plank (“set the plank temperature to 18 degrees”)
Unsurprisingly: You can also shop with Alexa – I will now save you the continuation with the wedding anniversary example and jewelry for your wife. Whereby – it just fits so nicely: So you’ve found something pretty. Just tell Alexa “Add diamond necklace to my shopping cart” and “order”.
Alexa can do a lot more than read out messages or make purchases on Amazon: You can ask her questions of knowledge, which she then looks up promptly. True to the motto: “You don’t have to know everything, you just have to know how to ask Alexa about it”. Example questions would be: “Alexa, why is the sky blue?”, “Alexa, how high is the Zugspitze?”, “Alexa, what is the capital of Australia?”, “Alexa, how far is it from here to Vienna?” “,” Alexa, what is the definition of paradox? “,” Alexa, when does the sun rise today? “,” Alexa, what’s the latest Quentin Tarantino movie? “,” Alexa, what is the IMDb rating for Jupiter Ascending? “
Everything should be as comfortable as possible
That happened because it was funny or just practical. And because it didn’t look dangerous. “The concrete benefit is worth more to us than the hypothetical disadvantage,” says Maximilian von Grafenstein, who heads a research project on data protection in the increasingly digital world at the Institute for and Society. With every new app and convenience, people gave up a little more of their privacy.