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AI Television Technology

South Park's Season Premier Sets Off Everyone's Amazon Echo (maxim.com) 291

SonicSpike writes: It's hard to believe that Trey Parker and Matt Stone didn't know exactly what they were doing with Wednesday night's season premiere of South Park. This episode marked the beginning of the show's 21st season and as usual, South Park took on current issues like tiki torch-wielding white supremacists and... home digital assistants. The latter meant lots of gags in which Cartman and other characters addressed Amazon Echo's Alexa and Google Home as well. And that ended up being a problem for viewers who own those devices. (Editor's note: example 1, 2) South Park writers absolutely knew their lines would do this and probably had a hilarious time coming up with funny commands for the home assistants.
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South Park's Season Premier Sets Off Everyone's Amazon Echo

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  • Genius (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15, 2017 @02:54PM (#55204539)

    Who actually uses these invasive pieces of technological garbage?

    • Re:Genius (Score:5, Funny)

      by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:01PM (#55204611)
      Southpark fans
    • Re:Genius (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JohnFen ( 1641097 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:13PM (#55204697)

      The people South Park is ridiculing, of course.

    • I have, multiple. What exactly do you want to know about having them?

      I had a tinfoil hat friend in HS that told me the NSA was *always* listening (this was back in the 90s). If I was planning a coup I wouldn't be doing it from my living room anyway.

      Some plywood, 2x4s, spray foam insulation and chicken wire should be enough to build a quiet room in your garage that is off RF and thermal radar.

      Hell looking around my shop right now I have more than enough for an average terrorist attack. Some ESP8266 devboard

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:07PM (#55204643)

    They should introduce a new character named Alexa, a young girl who fights for small businesses. Then Cartman can ask her for fishsticks and NAMBLA paraphernalia.

    • by Thruen ( 753567 )
      They did introduce a new character named Alexa... It's the Dots! You don't think they're done, do you? I'm looking forward to a season full of this.
  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:11PM (#55204669)

    I have my Echo right next to my TV and it didn't activate a singe time during South Park. However, every damn Amazon commercial seems to activate my Echo.

    • Since you've indicated that you have one of these devices, I have an honest question for you (I promise I am not being disparaging here, and won't argue with your response):

      What is the appeal of the device? What benefit are you getting from it? I've been utterly baffled by this ever since they came out.

      • Re:No, it didn't (Score:4, Informative)

        by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:36PM (#55204889) Journal

        A few very simple things to ask it:

        • play music you purchased via your Amazon account
        • the current time
        • set timers/alarms
        • general-information questions that wikipedia would have the answer to
        • current weather/traffic in your area (?)

        Not that impressive, but you can think of it as a $50 voice-controlled alarm clock/timer/stereo which may add new features in the future. I consider it an inexpensive one-time purchase that buys me continuous (for now) access to something of a potluck of Amazon's continuously updated cloud services.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by vux984 ( 928602 )

          Not that impressive, but you can think of it as a $50 voice-controlled alarm clock/timer/stereo

          /always on microphone hooked up to the internet that you have no real control over.

          And *that* is why it is an idiotic device. I can't imagine a how anyone thinks 'voice controlled alarm clock' is worth installing a 'microphone connected to amazon' into your room.

          • I can't stress enough how much the parent poster's point matters: you're choosing to install a spy in your home/office.

            People make the same choice when they take a tracker (aka "cell phone", "mobile phone") with them when they use the toilet or leave it next to their bed. Would it be okay if someone trailed you with a mic on a boom and hung it over the stall as you used the toilet or had sex in your bed? Ask people that and they'd probably object on the grounds of a loss of privacy. Yet if that mic (which i

      • by E-Rock ( 84950 )

        Not the GP, but I have one and really like it. The voice recognition is good and pretty much anyone can use it and it's not too far off the price point of a nice wireless speaker. The usage is the best part. I can use it, my wife can use it, my kids can use it. My wife hates technology, so that she can be in the kitchen and call out "Alexa, play the Gypsy Kings" and the Gypsy Kings starts playing makes it worth it.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's why I don't have an Alexa. Hearing my wife call out "Alexa, play the Gypsy Kings" and then the Gypsy Kings don't start playing makes it all worth it.

        • " by E-Rock ( 84950 ) ... My wife hates technology, so that she can be in the kitchen and call out "Alexa, play the Gypsy Kings" and the Gypsy Kings starts playing makes it worth it."

          I just asked Alexa and she said, your low UID and your handle indicates that you're one of the Gypsy Kings.

      • I have two young children (6 & 3). I love the simple timer setting that I can do anywhere from our first floor. We set timers to remind us on laundry flips/folds, play timers before chores/bed/etc (and other things). The girls love being able to "call" the grandparents and talk to them. They also play a variety of kids stations on Amazon and Pandora while they play/dance/etc. I absolutely love the shopping list feature. All the little things that where not worth stopping to add to an actual list a
    • You need the Silver version. It responds to anything remotely-similar to "Alexa."

      "Alessa, turn up the thermostat." "Alena, what time is it?" "Aleppo, where did I leave my cat?"

    • However, every damn Amazon commercial seems to activate my Echo.

      They shouldn't. The system recognises its own commercials and ignores them.

      • They shouldn't. The system recognises its own commercials and ignores them.

        So we should notify FTC of Amazon false advertising? You're saying that the things they explicitly show the device doing in their ads the devices have been programmed explicitly not to do in real life. If I buy an Echo for the specific purpose of setting a ten minute time-out timer for Mr. Bear it will ignore that command?

      • I assure you this is not true. Every single Amazon commercial sets it off, consistently. I have to rush to mute the TV whenever one comes on. It's integrated into my thermostat (Ecobee 4) and I absolutely hate it. You can't disable it without a bright persistent red LED across the top staying on. The commercials have made me never want another Alexa device again. And I'm pissed at Ecobee for not having a non-obnoxious way to disable it.

        My Google Home on the other hand is perfect. It never activates from a c

  • Largest-scale practical joke?
  • No sympathy (Score:5, Informative)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @03:20PM (#55204739) Journal

    Sorry if you are stupid enough to allow some company to basically put a hot-mic in your home, well I don't feel sorry about any problems you encounter as a result of that.

    • by McLae ( 606725 )
      And if you put the hot mic right next to the TV...

      Darwin would have laughed his ass off.

    • by chis101 ( 754167 )

      Seems like a bit of a harsh judgement of other people... But I'm sure that you would never own a device capable of this, so I guess you are allowed to judge.

      I'm sure you don't have a smart TV (many smart TV's support voice command, or have video chat, and 'smart' features almost certainly require an internet connection. Internet+Mic = possible hot-mic).

      You certainly don't have a smart phone with Google Now or Siri on it. Especially with wake word enabled! That would just be foolish.

      Some people like the conv

      • How much do you trust Amazon to protect your privacy vs the manufacturer of your TV?

        About the same amount.

      • by DogDude ( 805747 )
        Some people like the convenience of a voice assistant.

        Some people like meth, too. That doesn't mean that it's a smart decision.

        At least Amazon treats the audio recordings at a similar privacy level as they do credit card information.

        They sell that information. I buy it to analyze our business' customers' shopping habits. I'm sure I could buy data mined from recordings of people's daily lives, too, if I had a need for it.
        • I buy it to analyze our business' customers' shopping habits.

          Whoa, wait a minute -- you're criticizing people for selling their privacy while at the same time you're buying the privacy they're selling?

          How can I put this delicately... I think you don't exactly have the moral high ground here.

        • by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Friday September 15, 2017 @05:21PM (#55205773)

          "Some people like the convenience of a voice assistant.

          Some people like meth, too. That doesn't mean that it's a smart decision."

          But it's big business.
          s) Heisenberg

    • Re:No sympathy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @04:18PM (#55205249)

      Sorry if you are stupid enough to allow some company to basically put a hot-mic in your home, well I don't feel sorry about any problems you encounter as a result of that.

      Why do you not extend that same level of distrust to the phone in your pocket? It also has a camera, GPS, and contains your browsing history.

      • Not the commenter you're asking, but I'll chime in...

        Why do you not extend that same level of distrust to the phone in your pocket?

        I do.

        It also has a camera, GPS, and contains your browsing history.

        Indeed! Except for browsing history, anyway.

        But it also can't send any of that data out without me specifically allowing it to, which I rarely do.

        • But it also can't send any of that data out without me specifically allowing it to,

          Are you sure?

          I have had "background data" and "auto update apps" turned off for as long as I've known about that setting, and yet magically some of my apps updated themselves. And just a couple of days ago I found out that Google scans my device on a regular basis and checks with momma to verify that the apps are "safe".

          I can write a program with a "please may I send your data off to everyone?" check-box that is completely ignored. Who is to say Google or any other app developer cannot do the same thing

          • Are you sure?

            Nothing is certain, but I'm over 90% sure. I test my security arrangements regularly.

            I have had "background data" and "auto update apps" turned off for as long as I've known about that setting, and yet magically some of my apps updated themselves.

            I don't trust the operating system to keep me secure, for pretty obvious reasons.

            Who is to say Google or any other app developer cannot do the same thing?

            My firewall. Neither the OS nor any app can send data out without me specifically allowing it. Yes, it's technically possible for this to be bypassed, but as I said, I test regularly and, when I'm home, my network logs all internet accesses. I've not caught anything sneaky coming from my phone yet.

            • Nothing is certain, but I'm over 90% sure. I test my security arrangements regularly.

              I'm curious how you do that. I have actually run tcpdump on my phone's data while it has been running on my WiFi, but I cannot do that for other people's WiFi or while using cell data. Since the device can tell when it is connected to a non-snoopable network, I would assume any clandestine data transfers would be done using that network.

              My firewall. Neither the OS nor any app can send data out without me specifically allowing it.

              So you never use the "phone in your pocket" anywhere but where there is WiFi you control. It's never out in the real world where there is a cell data connection available to

              • I cannot do that for other people's WiFi or while using cell data.

                True, I can't run a sniffer on other people's networks. I can on my own, though, and I can when using the cell data from my home (I have an active cell booster that I can extract the usage data from -- I can't decode the actual packets, but I can see when the data link is being used, by what device, and the pattern of data sizes and times).

                So you never use the "phone in your pocket" anywhere but where there is WiFi you control...

                I'm not sure what that has to do with the firewall...

                Of course I use the phone in uncontrolled environments and yes, there is obviously a risk in doing so. That's why I d

                • I have an active cell booster that I can extract the usage data from -- I can't decode the actual packets, but I can see when the data link is being used, by what device, and the pattern of data sizes and times)

                  Interesting. Did not know such devices would give such data.

                  I'm not sure what that has to do with the firewall...

                  How do you run a firewall on cell data networks? Trusting the firewall you run implies all the data goes through it.

                  But watching the data amounts, if not the destinations, through the booster would give you some indication of how the phone behaves, privacy-wise, when the app or OS author thinks you are on an un-monitorable cell network, so if you don't see it misbehaving on that network then that is a reasonable indication it isn't misbehaving.

                  • Interesting. Did not know such devices would give such data.

                    They can if you hack them. And, if you don't mind spending more than a little money and violating the law or FCC rules, you can get devices that tell you much more than that (basically, your own functional equivalent of a Stingray).

                    How do you run a firewall on cell data networks?

                    The cell data network is handled by Linux the same way that other data interfaces are (it just looks like another network interface), and iptables handles them just fine.

                    Trusting the firewall you run implies all the data goes through it.

                    Indeed so, and this is another point of uncertainty. For instance, the cell modem blob communicates without go

                    • I've also omitted the more mundane hardening I do -- period MAC randomization, using a VPN, etc.

        • "But it also can't send any of that data out without me specifically allowing it to, which I rarely do."

          It's really cute, that you believe that.

    • by Holi ( 250190 )
      I hope you don't have a smartphone then.
    • "Sorry if you are stupid enough to allow some company to basically put a hot-mic in your home, "

      If you have a cellphone or a laptop you already have one, with a camera, so why bother?

  • Is if it did all processing locally, and was isolated from everything else.

    Connect to my thermostat? Fine. Turn on a light? OK. Connect to my bank account? Not so much.

    Send everything I say that it thinks includes a 'trigger word' to an off-site server for voice recognition processing and data mining? FUCK NO.

    What the hell is wrong with people?

    • What the hell is wrong with people?

      I would never go along with it, but I agree with another commenter here that I don't think it's reasonable to say that people who are OK with all of that have something wrong with them.

      That is, in effect, saying that anyone who has different priorities than you are in some way broken or wrong. It's just not true -- they merely have different priorities.

      If other people are OK with privacy invasions I am not OK with, that's no skin off of my nose. We each get to choose how we live our lives.

  • by williamyf ( 227051 ) on Friday September 15, 2017 @04:03PM (#55205115)

    Unlike in the cases of Cortana and Siri, you can change Alexa's Name to a number of pre-defined alternative names (currently 4, pettition amazon for more).

    While I concur with people saying that this technology has security implications and is best avoided, I sugest changing the wake voice command (name) of your smart speaker as a way to lower this type of pranks.

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/help... [amazon.com]

  • Is to prompt the end-user to choose a name for it. It's your device, I shouldn't have to call it "Google" or "Alexa" or whatever. To truly make a device personal, I should be required to name it.

  • There have been some suggestions that Southpark is making fun of anyone who bought an echo. And maybe they are, Southpark will make fun of anything. But I think the real weak link here is Amazon, or anyone who puts out a such a device with such an easy exploit path. XKCD already had a comic about messing with these ( https://xkcd.com/1807/ [xkcd.com] ). Clearly these need to have an option to rename the personality anything you choose, like your wireless network. Not that people wouldn't leave it at the default,

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