Are they listening right now or aren't they? That's a question a lot of people ponder while looking at the smart speakers they've brought into their homes, like Amazon Echo and Google Home devices.
As far as Alexa goes, yeah, it hears more than it should, alongside potentially thousands of Amazon employees. Now, the voice assistant also wants to be a basic security system that listens even more than it already does.
But wait, here comes something new. A major telecom company is looking to release a product, but it's not really a smart speaker. It'll be monitoring, but for something else entirely - including how many trips you take to the bathroom. Wait, what?
Don't call it a smart speaker
Comcast has a new device on the horizon, but it's very different from an Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod. It's not a voice assistant you'll use to check the weather or turn lights on around the house.
It's not even similar to Comcast's other in-home tech like home security. According to a recent report by CNBC, this device will have a singular purpose: to monitor your health. Specifically, it's supposed to keep tabs on basic health stats through built-in ambient sensors that look for patterns using motion detection.
What's more is that it's well past the planning stage and apparently almost ready for testing. But are they the kind of sensitive details you want to be sharing with your cable company?
Collecting a unique set of health vitals
This device is supposed to be marketed to a demographic where health is of the utmost importance, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities. But it's looking for vitals other than your temperature and blood pressure.
According to the report, sensors will focus on unique areas like, how many trips you make to the bathroom or if you're in bed longer than usual. Nothing remotely creepy about that ...
It could also detect falls, like some of the other smart tech currently available. The device is also supposed to respond to limited voice commands and be able to make calls during a health emergency.
Testing on the new device is supposed to happen later this year, and could see a wider release in 2020. Other details, including price, haven't been released.
Privacy and your health
Other big names like Amazon, Apple and Google have been venturing more into the field of healthcare in recent years. For instance, Apple added major health-tracking features like an ECG and fall detection to the latest Apple Watch, while also working with insurance companies to subsidize the wearable for customers.
Amazon recently conducted a pilot program where it placed Echo smart speakers in rooms at a hospital in Los Angeles. HIPAA-compliant medical skills are also coming to Alexa.
Google's apparently been trying to get its tech into nursing homes. Comcast has also reportedly been in talks with various hospitals, hoping to use the device as a way to keep people from ending up right back in the emergency room.
With any health-tracking tech, it comes down to where your data is going (seriously, Comcast?) and how it's being used. And that's not counting data breaches that impact every kind of business, even in the health industry.
It's also about what data is being collected. It's one thing when you've fallen and can't get up, it's another when your bathroom habits are being tracked and analyzed. Not even Alexa is THAT invasive, at least not right now.
That, and at least your alarm clock won't quietly judge you for sleeping in.
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