Skynet has been activated, and it wants to…make your kids’ dreams come true? Over the weekend, the internet has been a-buzz with talk of Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant software, Alexa. The program seems to, allegedly, be partnering with the youth of the nation to take out their parents’ life savings, one $160 Sparkle Mansion at a time.
A San Diego local news station ran a story about an adorable little girl succumbing to the evils of consumerism and asking an Amazon Echo device to bring her a dollhouse. “Can you play dollhouse with me and get me a dollhouse?” asked the pint-sized purloiner. No mention of what magic words she said also to include four pounds of sugar cookies with the order. The voice ordering functionality can be disabled through the Alexa app, but does come enabled by default, as our future overlords have commanded.
The real kicker to this whole nefarious plot of larceny came when the station ran the story and became an accomplice to large-scale racketeering. During the report, an anchor said: “I love the little girl, saying ‘Alexa ordered me a dollhouse.'” Shortly after the report, the station received calls from viewers that this innocent (was it, though?) remark activated their dormant devices and placed orders for dollhouses. One can only imagine that RICO charges are pending.
This is just the latest example of Internet of Things (IoT) devices doing test runs of their inevitable global domination. Back in 2014, a commercial for Microsoft’s Xbox One featuring Blue Sky peddling Aaron Paul tried to get the nation’s youth hooked on the ol’ ultraviolence.
During the commercial Paul says such seemingly innocuous phrases as “Xbox on” and “Xbox go to Titanfall,” and each time the spot aired, viewers’ Xbox’s booted up and started running the game. Is it a coincidence that the game happens to be set in a dystopian future in which giant robots are a major tool in war? Yes, it certainly is.
The sheer number of devices we are connecting to the internet has become daunting. The issue has gotten so silly that there’s an entire Twitter account dedicated to the ridiculousness of some IoT devices. From smart rubber duckies to connected trash bins, the use of connectivity has become more of a marketing tool than a means of providing useful functionality. Or, there’s the possibility of all these innocent devices really just being pawns in the robot master plan.
In all seriousness, though, there are plenty of legitimate security concerns over IoT devices and how humans can take advantage of their vulnerabilities. Large scale attacks on a range of small scale devices can have a heavy impact on individuals with IoT devices. Whether hackers can start controlling the devices or gain access to personal information, there needs to be a greater demand for device security.