Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

How ‘Smart’ Technology Gets You to Continue Paying Long After Point of Sale

Matthew Braga, CBC News:

For consumers who are rightfully skeptical of how tech companies big and small are collecting, analyzing, and making money off their data — even in anonymized form — the sudden proliferation of these always-connected smart devices is concerning. But there’s a reason that everything from televisions to cars are suddenly getting smarter.

For consumers wondering why it might feel increasingly harder to buy something dumb or disconnected, the reason is partly technical. Some of the products users enjoy today wouldn’t be possible — or, as good — without a connection to the internet.

But it’s also about money. With product margins thinner than ever, more companies are either re-building their old hardware businesses around online subscriptions, or monetizing data from people who are using their products for free.

This makes complete sense to me as a justification for why Bluetooth and NFC chips are appearing in seemingly every household object. However, I feel like Braga’s article is less effective than it could be primarily because of its lede:

A common criticism of virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant is that they are always on, always listening, and always connected to the internet. It’s the only way they work.

This is what I meant when I linked to an excellent Axios piece about how it’s inaccurate to discuss “tech giants” in a monolithic way. Braga writes about Siri in the same breath as Alexa and Google’s Assistant, but doesn’t mention it at all throughout the rest of the piece, nor how Apple’s approach is different than the others. As suggested by the large quote above, Apple’s subscription-based products are becoming an increasingly important part of its business, but the concerns about privacy and data selling do not apply to the same degree that they do for Amazon, Google, or Facebook. I’m not defending Apple because they’re Apple and I am either being paid, or am on a favourable PR list or something — I am neither. I just think it’s important to be clear about how these tech companies are different. This article would have been so much more effective if it pointed out that Siri and Alexa appear to do similar things in similar ways, but are vastly different behind the scenes, but that discussion just isn’t there.