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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mt Holyoke chapter.

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I was one of the last people in my age group to get a Facebook account (or so I felt, at the age of sixteen), something that I felt greatly hindered my rating on the scale of coolness; I joined Instagram only a month before graduating high school, and I still have only 4601 snap points on Snapchat. Nevertheless, I can no longer remember a time when I didn’t turn to these same social media platforms when I’d been bored or needed a distraction (for example, the boredom I’ve encountered while sitting on the toilet seat). However, in a turn of recent events, I have begun to wonder whether it is time for me to delete my Facebook page entirely and to limit my dependence on technology, starting by relearning how to turn the lights on using a thumb and a switch (and without any help from Alexa)— a decision that the business magnate/technology investor/engineer Elon Musk seems to agree with.

I was first introduced to Alexa’s ability to respond to my needs upon visiting my Uncle’s “smart” house in New Jersey last year. I was astounded by the ease at which Alexa is able to hear and respond to our needs — whether we want to know how many seasons there are in a year, how many nanoseconds there are in a second, or to ask to listen to an old Taylor Swift song. Alexa – while being an extremely useful assistant – falls just short of being able to make conversation with you (but would it be an overreaction to wonder whether she can still hear our conversations?).

Amazon and Google, who monopolize the market on such devices, claim that their products only record and process audio once they have been triggered using phrases such as “Hey, Alexa” or “O.K., Google”. However, according to an article in the New York Times, both companies have filed patent applications that lay groundwork for how this technology can be used to monitor more of what users say and do, and how that information can then be used to determine a person’s wants and interests, and thereby could be used to deliver appropriate ads and targeted product recommendations.

There have already been instances in which Alexa and Google Home overheard more than users expect or intend it to. For example, in 2017, an Arkansas prosecutor even issued a search warrant to see if a suspect’s Echo contained evidence in a murder case, and while the Echo did not contain any evidence in this case, it makes one aware of its potential to be a third party listening in on conversations. Situations like these makes one wonder whether these devices are the realization of the “telescreens” (devices that operate as televisions, spying devices, and microphones) that Orwell had envisioned back in 1949. The Telegraph confirms that researchers have discovered that it is possible to turn an Echo device into a “wiretap”: which means that cybercriminals (or the government) can potentially listen in on the microphone recordings as well as take over the device.

The most recent, and perhaps one of the biggest issues around data security was on Facebook: the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The political data firm, Cambridge Analytica, was accused of harvesting the data of millions of Facebook users and using them to manipulate and influence electorate groups on social media – most notably during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election. This led the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, Elon Musk, to delete his companies’ Facebook pages and Instagram and post the hashtag #deletefacebook on his Twitter account, as an invitation for many others to join in on the hashtag.

Funny enough, many of my friends and I had already joked about how we could dream of M&M’s one night, and the next day an advertisement for M&M’s would show up on our Facebook feed even before the scandal broke out. And while our discussions may have been exaggerated, it turns out they were not too far from the truth. Social media can, and has been used to profile our interests and give us what we want, a fact that not only limits one’s ability to come across views other than the ones they already believe in, but also one that over a period of time could result in obscuring the distinction between what we want and Facebook’s version of what they think we want.

While we can argue that technology has made our lives better and that it can make our lives better still, that all our problems lie in the past and it is the future that will solve them, it is also necessary to acknowledge the potential new problems we may be creating with the introduction of new technology like this. Humans have previously underestimated the destructive power of their creations: for example, automobiles wreaked havoc on the world for years before any rules were made regarding their use. Everything has a trade-off: and for the convenience of technology, it is our privacy at risk, which is seemingly protected for now but which may not be if control falls into the wrong hands.

If you would like to write for Her Campus Mount Holyoke, or if you have any questions or comments for us, please email mt-holyoke@hercampus.com.

Mount Holyoke College is a gender-inclusive, historically women's college in South Hadley, MA.