Maybe you’ve heard that Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri are waging war over the hotel room: It seems the makers of those home informational devices want to place them in your hotel room, where you can ask it questions or possibly order room service.
I guess only part of me is surprised at this news… the part that knows how many people are still uncomfortable around these devices, and the security risks they pose. For instance, the world is still not fully convinced that these devices (along with the Google Home), which listen for commands whenever they are plugged in, can’t be hacked to record all the sounds in a room and send them to another location. In fact, people aren’t convinced that Apple, Amazon and Google aren’t storing all that data already. And since hotels aren’t exactly renowned for their high security or advanced networking capabilities, it seems like hotel visitors will be very wary around the devices. Will they be listening in while I discuss important business dealings? Or while my wife and I have sex? Or while you have sex with someone you just met in a bar?
The devices will supposedly allow you to do things like order food, or an Uber, or ask directions to local places. Will it actually connect to your account… or to a hotel server that offers limited services… or will your account be granted access to the hotel servers? That has yet to be determined at this point; but I know how wary I’d be if my Google account was suddenly accessible by the hotel servers, which would be designed to push products you’d like. Imagine sitting in your room, when the device suddenly announces: “Steve, we make a great mojito at the Sandy Side Bar… and low-fat desserts, too!” Yeah, thanks loads, Siri…
Another thing we all know is that any of that data the devices process will be added to the data being stored about the visitor, and certainly sold by the hotels to aggregate services. So your universe of personal stored data can now include how many drinks you took from the mini-bar, which X-rated movies you watched at midnight, which bags of chips you bought at the first floor vending machine, etc, etc.
All of this adds up to one more level of tracking, invasion of privacy and risk of data theft… for those who care about such things. In my opinion, that level of tracking is already higher than most of us realize; and most of us have opted-in to most of that tracking willingly, so that we could buy discounted tickets, get access to HOT lanes and pay tolls without having to stop, shop online without having to remember pesky passwords, etc. Data theft is almost assured for most of us, because we don’t use secure passwords or verification systems. And privacy? Well, my phone and my tablet have microphones on them. Who knows what they’re already hearing?
So, will the hotel industry benefit from the informational devices, or will customers balk and want them unplugged or removed? Will the hotels have to offer some incentives to leave it alone, like discounted shopping in the hotel gift shop, or voice control of your room’s TV? Will they end up with specially-designed devices, bolted down and hardwired to the room, with no off switch? Will hotels, concerned about liability when people misbehave in their rooms, decide it’s best to record and store everything the devices hear? Or will these devices be ubiquitous and accepted hotel appliances in a few years? Only time will tell.