“Alexa, turn the air conditioner on.”
“Alexa, order room service.”
“Alexa, check us out please.”
This is the future. Amazon has announced that they have developed Alexa for Hospitality for hotel rooms around the world, and the process has already begun. To guests, this means that they will practically have a concierge desk in their bedroom. At first glance, this seems like a great idea. In the hotel industry, customer service can make or break your business. Should consumers be wary of this opportunity though? The answer is yes. And to explain why we must dig beyond the information available on the surface.
Is Alexa Always Listening?
If Amazon asked you to pay them $100 to allow them to record you in private, would you be on board? Would you let them into your home or hotel room to listen to your conversations, and add to their massive collections of data? Probably not. What if they gave the device a name though, like, Alexa? Would your answer change?
Many people do not know that their Alexa device is actively recording them when they speak to it. Average citizens probably don’t care if Amazon knows what the weather is like where they live, or what kind of music they listen to. But this isn’t all Alexa collects data on. For example, when you ask Alexa to text your significant other, she notes who that person is and what kind of things you say to them. The device collects data with the intention of constructing a complete profile of who you are and what kinds of things you are willing to spend money on. Amazon connects the data collected with your Alexa to all of your Amazon-related services. If Alexa told you it was raining outside this morning, you might see advertisements for umbrellas on your computer later.
Amazon claims that the device only begins to record people after they say its name, Alexa. However, if it did record more, there would be no way for the public to know. Plus, the privacy concern of Alexa does not stop at Amazon. The company does not sell the data it collects on you to external parties. (It’s not in their best financial interest.) But what would happen if someone else got their hands on the data your Alexa collected?
Awaiting a PR Nightmare
A woman in Portland, Oregon had an entire private conversation between her and her husband emailed to a random contact of theirs via their home Alexa. Checkmarx created a foolproof system in which “any recorded audio [can be] transcribed (if voices are captured) and a text transcript [can be sent] to a hacker” to show Amazon that the product is not safe for consumer use yet. Time and time again, we are presented with evidence that Alexa is hackable. Nevertheless, the product is still pursuing rapid expansion– now, in our hotel rooms. With the introduction of Amazon for Hospitality, Alexa may now not only be watching you in your home but also when you’re on the go. And who knows where she will be able to watch you next. Or, what may happen if your information gets into the wrong hands.
Alexa for Hospitality sounds like a PR nightmare in the making for the hotel industry. It’s not a matter of if hotel Alexas are going to be hacked, but when. We guess that the first Alexa for Hospitality hacking is going to leave a “Facebook and Cambridge Analytica” sized scar on whoever the unlucky first hotel company is. Europe and the rest of the world is still responding from that with GDPR and other privacy laws. The world would not react well to an Alexa privacy infiltration. Which begs the question– is it worth it? Alexa for Hospitality has a lot of customer service benefits. However, companies who utilize the service must have a PR plan should things go wrong. If you are a hotel owner and could not afford a PR disaster, you might want to let other hotels take the plunge first, and see how things go.
We’re Just Going to Leave This Here
Having an Amazon Alexa in your home is one thing. It’s in a private place where only you and people you trust have access to it. People can still potentially hack it, but it’s at less of a risk because it would have to be hacked indirectly. Amazon for Hospitality is a different story. When hotels place an Alexa or some variation of her into a hotel room, anyone with access to that room will be able to tinker with her.
If you’re wondering what the incentive to hack may be, there is plenty. Businessmen and women frequently discuss sensitive information in hotel rooms while away on business trips. For the average vacationer, hackers could record your information to sell to data collecting companies, (both legitimate and illegitimate). And it makes more sense for a hacker to infiltrate Alexa for Hospitality. They are around different individuals and families on a regular basis as opposed to a single home unit.
Whether you’re a hotel chain or a room renter, don’t have to avoid Alexa like the plague. But you should both be aware of the potential consequences rooms equipped with Alexa for Hospitality could present. It’s only a matter of time before these devices encounter computer geeks with malicious intent.
Written By: Victoria Kline