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Millions of people use smart speakers in their homes which detect all spoken words in a room and send them across an internet connection to companies such as Google (Google Home), Amazon (Amazon Echo with Alexa), and Apple (HomePod).

What is a polite way to tell a person that I am only willing to talk to them if they do not operate a device which transmits my words to a third party in this way?

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    Although not very much an answer I would put forward, I think this is really funny: xkcd.com/1807 – Zizouz212 Jul 25 '17 at 20:34
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    @tell I've got a feeling Alexa at least only transmits words after the 'wakeword' Alexa is spoken - whenever the blue light is on. Also, you can ask for it to be 'muted' if you want. – marcellothearcane Jul 26 '17 at 8:49
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    @Aurora0001 - Many thanks for this correction regarding muting. I misread the other thread. Apologies. It is indeed stated in the docs that muting cuts off the microphones on the device, albeit not on the remote if one is used. (My own practice is to turn devices off at the mains when I'm not using them or taking a short break.) – user1610 Jul 26 '17 at 9:43
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    So what about Siri, security cameras etc? – Summer Jul 26 '17 at 10:43
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    Does talking to AIs involve interpersonal skills as well? I wonder... – NVZ Jul 26 '17 at 10:53
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We were gifted one of these for my "children" at Christmas. I was rather shocked as I do not think this is something you give, as it's a choice to be made that we didn't want, on purpose.

I can only hope people respect my requests, as I am not going to snoop around their homes & look to see what is on or off, etc, but I do tell people I do not want to be around devices like this. At home, all my cameras are covered when not in use, microphones are disabled, etc. My spouse works in IT, so I think I became aware of potential for these devices a lot sooner than some of our friends. I also make a point of letting them know I do not like to be photographed, etc without being aware.

I don't think people realize how rude some of this can be to assume it's okay with everyone. I have cameras all over my home I use to monitor my kids, locations, safety, etc. My kids are young. This is not used to spy, but to allow them more freedom of movement (especially the 3 year old) without me having to stop what I need to do all the time to go check on her or make her stay right by me all day. When I have guests I turn this off. If they sleep in rooms where I have a camera, I cover the camera & disconnect it to ensure they feel comfortable & welcome. If I have a sitter I make sure they are aware the cameras are there & that I might check in. I am not trying to catch anyone doing anything, I am merely trying to monitor the situation & as such I have no need to hide that they are there. I would feel very rude to use them without making people aware that I am using them. I think they have a right to consent (or not) to such things.

So you can ask. I ask. I do not find it weird & so far no one has reacted oddly. That said, for all I know, it may be left on as I do not check & they might have blown it off as me being paranoid & said whatever just to make it sound good or they might respect it & turn them off. I am not speaking about anything that would land me in any trouble anyway no matter who is listening, but it is just the point that I prefer not to be listened to or watched when I am unaware of it. It might be paranoid to some, it could in fact actually be paranoid for all I know, but either way, it's how I feel & I think it is okay to tell people you prefer not to be around listening devices and/or cameras.

  • Many thanks for this answer. How do you phrase the request when you ask people, especially if it's someone you don't know very well? – user1610 Jul 26 '17 at 9:51
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    If I'm going to someone's home I just ask if they use listening devices like "google home" at all. Then if they say yes, I say back "I hope it's not too big of an inconvenience, but by chance can you disconnect that when I arrive? I am very uncomfortable with things that listen in or record me visually or audio. I would prefer not to be around that sort of technology". No one so far seems to care. My sister has one. She was rather surprised to realize it's listening all the time, not just when she says "Siri". What is funny is watching her attempt to use it after forgetting it's off. – threetimes Jul 26 '17 at 10:12
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    Quote from Primer: What's worse? Thinking you're being paranoid, or knowing you should be? – can-ned_food Jul 30 '17 at 14:05
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What is a polite way to tell a person that I am only willing to talk to them if they do not operate a device which transmits my words to a third party in this way?

Keep in mind that being polite means you are respectful and considerate of others. You should therefore recognize that these devices provide significant benefits to some users, and that telling them to choose between you and their personal assistant may simply be impolite. There might not be a way for you to be respectful and considerate of your host when telling them that you'd rather not talk to them at all if they use such devices.

So if your goal is to be polite, then you should consider changing your question to one where the burden is placed on you rather than your host:

What is a polite way to find out if someone is operating a device which transmits my words to a third party?

A possible version might be something like:

I'm uncomfortable around personal assistant devices which respond to voice commands. Do you use any in this room/home?

After finding out the answer you can then decide how to act - the most respectful way would be simply to censor yourself and avoid saying anything you believe is too personal for such a device to hear. There's no need to point this out, unless you want to be tactless or blame them for your anxiety.

Thanks for letting me know.

They may respond by attempting to make you feel more comfortable, hopefully they will be good hosts, recognize your discomfort, and try to alleviate it.

If they do not, and you absolutely cannot speak in the presence of such a device you might instead indicate that you simply feel uncomfortable talking where one can hear you, and ask if there's a private place you can go without such devices, or request that your visit be moved to a park or restaurant - a more public place where perhaps you'll feel you have more privacy.

I see, thanks for letting me know. Unfortunately this makes me too uncomfortable to feel at ease. Is there another place we can visit together without them?

You could ask that they be disabled, but that involves 1) cutting your host off from their personal assistant (and perhaps their home automation system) and 2) requiring the host to figure out what you mean (is mute enough, or you you demand they be disconnected and unpowered?) and then go around and do it, then undo it when you leave.

I'm still very uneasy about them, I hope you understand, but I just can't talk when they are on. Would it be too much trouble to mute/disable/disconnect them while I'm here?

Again, this is definitely outside respectful and considerate territory - once you made your discomfort clear as in the first two statements, they should respond, or you should simply make an excuse and leave. That said, an argument could be made that they, choosing not to respond in the manner you'd prefer, have shown you disrespect and so continuing down this path might be acceptable depending on your level of tact and your relationship with them.

If they are good friends they will probably acquiesce without further issue, but given that they've chosen to live with these devices it would continue to be a burden every time you visited, and you would have to weigh the value of that relationship against the burden you are placing on it. Keep in mind that while you may see it as your personal space being invaded, this is their home and they may see it as paranoia that they have to put up with if they want to maintain your friendship.

Given that these devices don't transmit unless the wake word is used, you probably shouldn't weigh your anxiety so heavily in the balance.

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Those devices probably aren't transmitting everything you say, only words said after the 'wake word', as pointed out in the comments. However, if you don't feel comfortable with the idea of being listened to, you should speak up and ask—generally, these devices have a mute button (e.g. see the button on the Google Home and Amazon Echo), which is very easy to press and disable the microphones entirely.

If you'd rather the devices were off completely, I think it's perfectly reasonable to ask that too; turning the devices off completely (at the power cord) isn't a huge amount of trouble if a guest isn't comfortable with the devices running. You could just say something along the lines of:

Would you mind turning off your [Echo/Google Home]? I'm not really comfortable with them, and I'd feel more at ease if they were off.

If you don't know whether they've got any devices listening, you might be able to start a conversation about the devices. Ask them if they know anything about the devices, and if they do, they'll probably tell you about their setup. That naturally leads on to telling them that you're not happy with the idea of being listened to, and you can take it from there.

Generally, since the solution to your problem is a simple step (pressing a button or switching a device off), the vast majority of reasonable people would accommodate your request. I think of it like this: many people hate spiders, and although I don't personally feel the same way, I do what I can to avoid making others feel unhappy, because the feeling is real to them. Whether the concern is actually valid or not isn't the question here—it's the fact that someone's uncomfortable, and I could do something to fix that... so that's the polite thing to do. Similarly in this situation, your host might not understand or agree with the problem, but I doubt they'd flat out refuse.

If they do, you have to decide whether to bite the bullet and stay anyway, or accept that and leave. It's difficult for me to tell you the right option here; it depends how strongly you feel about the devices.

In summary: definitely ask and explain why you feel that way; most hosts will accommodate, and it seems fair because it's not a large request. If not, you've got to choose whether it's a big enough issue to leave.

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Think about how you would feel if someone came into your home as a guest and demanded you to turn off your cellphone. That is essentially what you are asking them to do and it is fairly rude to be a guest in someones home and proceed to dictate what they can and cannot use.

There is no polite way to "tell" them you will not speak to them unless they cave to your demands.

You do have the option of asking them to turn it off because it makes you uncomfortable, but giving them an ultimatum (which it sounds like from the question) is completely rude.

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As a guest in somebody else's house you don't really have the option to tell them how to operate their house. So with that, it seems like your only option would be to say "I don't trust google home/ amazon alexa devices and I don't want to be around them until more regulations are put in place on what can and cannot be recorded. If you'd like to hang out I'm happy to host! But I don't like the idea of speaking around these devices."

  • Of course, although the question mentions households as an example, it doesn't actually limit itself to them … – can-ned_food Jul 30 '17 at 14:07
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Tell them just that.

Your discomfort is not with the person — at least, not yet, — but with the ubiquity of devices that make it easy for anyone with the desire and know–how to eavesdrop and snoop.
Tell the person that you are not comfortable with such things, and that you will only permit yourself a modicum of conversation with anyone until they are willing to power–down or disconnect their devices, as necessary.
You probably shouldn't use those exact words, though, because it sounds too ominous for most people. Say simply something like

I don't trust { Google, Amazon, Apple }, and I really am not comfortable talking around smartphones or the like. I know it probably sounds like a chore to you, but I don't think it is possible to have a private conversation if one of those devices is nearby with a battery installed.

I've done this a few times, and so long as I explain to them my reasoning, I usually get considerate responses.

Now, I'm not going to walk through every possible permutation of personality and protocol. This is really all I have to say:

  • if this is a concern to you, you should inform the other person.
  • if the other person doesn't take it seriously, or insults your concern, or simply doesn't want to comply, then apologize for the trouble, but not for the inconvenience: it is not your failure to be concerned with these things while some other people are not.
  • the biggest concern should never be the threat you can see, but the possibility of the one which you cannot. :-)
    More seriously, though, you should always be careful with what you say or do, even if only for privacy's sake.

Now, if you aren't attempting to have private conversations, or aren't in a private environment at all — well, then, what difference does it make whether someone carries a smartphone with audio recording software or whether someone stands on the street corner with an obvious video camera?

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