Stephen Neville, ‘Eavesmining: A Critical Audit of the Amazon Echo and Alexa Conditions of Use’

ABSTRACT
The emergence of smart speakers and voice-activated personal assistants (VAPAs) calls for updated scrutiny and theorization of auditory surveillance. This paper introduces the neologism and concept of ‘eavesmining’ (eavesdropping + data mining) to characterize a mode of surveillance that operates on the edge of acoustic space and digital infrastructure. In contributing to a sonic epistemology of surveillance, I explain how eavesmining platforms and processes burrow the voice as a medium between sound and data and articulate the acoustic excavation of smart environments. The paper discusses eavesmining in relation to theories of dataveillance, the sensor society, and surveillance capitalism before outlining the potential contributions offered by a theoretical alignment with sound studies literature. The paper centers on an empirical case study of the Amazon Echo and Alexa conditions of use. By conducting a discourse analysis of Amazon’s End User Agreements (EUAs), I provide evidence in support of growing privacy and surveillance concerns produced by Amazon’s eavesmining platform that are obfuscated by the illegibility of the documents.

Neville, Stephen J, Eavesmining: A Critical Audit of the Amazon Echo and Alexa Conditions of Use (September 1, 2020). Surveillance and Society 18 (3): 343–56. https://doi.org/10.24908/ss.v18i3.13426.

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