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An Evening with Alexa, Privacy and the Voice of the Future.

· 7 min read
Ron Amosa
Platform Security Engineer @ Salesforce U.S.

I bought myself an Amazon Echo Dot.

Why? I'm not exactly an Amazon fan-boy (give it time). But I think the last couple of years I've come across the whole concept of 'voice', 'automation' and the convenience of everything.

I've been seeing more and more examples of voice based systems for example home automation and podcasts. And now we have several voice-activated assistants to choose from, including Alexa.

Voice assistants are nothing new. Alexa was launched in 2014. Apple had Siri in 2011. And Google Assistant probably the most recent newcomer launching 2016

So why now? I think the age of voice is here. The same way everyone gravitated to the mobile handset over everything else for its convenience, I think voice-activated services is where things will be very very soon.

Setting up my Echo Dot#

I'll be honest, setting up the echo dot was not a smooth experience. It was a bit clunky going from one thing, into another to setup another thing.

For example,

  • First you need to install the mobile app to your phone.
  • Then you connect your phone to the Echo's wifi. Once connected, you configure the dot through the mobile app, which includes connecting the dot to your home wifi.
  • Once your dot is connected to the Wifi and has internet connectivity
  • You disconnect your phone-to-dot wifi connection, and select from a few connection mechanisms to re-connect to the dot (e.g. bluetooth)

Mobile App#

The mobile app leaves a few things to be desired and the menu flow it not that intuitive. This is understandable I guess as its just there to configure the alexa device.

And if you're ever away from your Echo Dot, you can always enable Alexa on your phone:

First play with the Dot#

After I got it all up and running I was surprised at how sensitive to my voice commands Alexa could be. I would start saying something and if I changed my mind part way though, saying "Alexa" again, even over the noise of what she was already reciting, would get picked up and she would follow my very next command.

doesn't understand "Samoa" or "Western Samoa", keeps saying "I dont know that one" or some info on "more?"

The first few things I did after initial setup and play was

  • Setup flash briefing for RNZ
  • Added jurassic bark (admittedly this was because Alexa suggested it)
  • Added home address (this was for the location, traffic calculator thing)
  • Linked google account for calendar so Alexa could spy on all my appointments
  • need to learn the commands because keep having to say "Alexa, stop" to cut out playing shit.

Initial thoughts are - this could have a lot of good "assistant-like" uses (no duh). When going through my organizing, planning or communciation tools, I can see where voice activated frees us your hands and other resources to do other things, while your voice-assistant can do more work on your behalf.


Alexa couldn't recognize the word "Samoa". No matter how many times I said it, in different tones, used it in a sentence ("Alexa, how many people in Western Samoa?"). Nothing. No dice. Thought it was my accent, but it recognized everything else okay :/

What's the future of voice?#

I'm thinking of voice in 2 parts. First, the "voice" component of communication i.e. not video, not written, so think podcasts or any other audio inputs. And second, the voice-activated landscape of assistants (assistance?).

I think the future is already here and we're at the very early stages of seeing it be fully integrated into our everyday lives. In the same way I look for shows on Netflix and not SkyTV, or regular TV - and this is "normal" now, I think voice-activated things are going to be integrated into everything from telling the coffee machine to hop to it, to planning and booking not only holidays, but also appointments and all types of interactive scheduling.

On the CNBC Website 13 hours ago is a story of iconic Wall Street Bank JP Morgan offering Amazon Alexa functionality to their clients. JP Morgan customers will be able to use an Alexa to fetch the banks research reports.

And with Amazon making a lot of strategic partnerships with Banks and Health Care Services I think the use of Alexa and voice assistants in general are going to be in everything!

Cool. So what are some cool things I can do with Alexa right now?

After getting my hands on one of these devices, naturally you start looking for all the cool things you can do with it (other than the cool things you had in mind before you bought it)

There's a million sites with a laundry list of uses.

And this guy does a cool top 10

so I'm just going to list a few I think are pretty cool.

Buy All the Things#

The whole point of Amazon putting Alexa out is to help us buy more things. From Amazon. I like that fact you can (after setting up payment methods first) just tell Alexa to buy stuff and it sorts it out while you run around doing something else

Obviously this is the propaganda for it, but it illustrates my point:


The idea of having a personal trainer, wherever you are is a good one. Now, it's early days and I haven't actually used one of these skills. Maybe I'll follow up with another post of which ones I tried and how they went.

Some example of workouts include: Five Minute Workout: Core and Cardio, The Random Workout and the 30 Day Pushup Challenge. Yea, maybe I will do a follow up blog post about it.

Sleep and Waking Sounds#

I think these are by far the most popular one. And it doesn't surprise me. Remember that movie Her with Joaquin Phoenix?

Now I couldn't get myself through the whole movie, but I got the gist of it. And having a personal assistant be there as someone to comfort and soothe you was absolutely how I saw these voice-buddies being used the most.

So it's not surprising that the top reviewed Health & Fitness Skill is Relaxing Sounds: Spa Music. Another Zen Sounds: Healing Sounds skill is also got a lead on reviews. There's a lot of rain and thunder sounds to lull you to sleep.

I think voice-activated "buddies" are good for doing some of that "you" work you might not be ready to do with another human being. Obviously it's not the best method, but something's better than nothing.


There's a lot to digest when it comes to our privacy and the misuse of user/customer data in the world today. It's not something to be taken lightly. Or ignored. 'Makeuseof' have a great article on the various privacy risks you have with the Echo (or any voice-activated assistants).

We're at the precipice of the new world. Some might argue we're already there. But with the dawn of new technology and how it will cure all previous 'ill's, also comes the new 'ills'. Do we trade one for another?

All I know for now is, I'm going to build an Alexa Skill. I'm going to try and do some good with it, and I want to discover how to embrace the new world. And take the good from the old world with me.



The 'Echo Dot 2nd Generation (Black)'. I'm going to be using this to help me build & test my Alexa Skills.