Sunday, September 19, 2021

Where the Trojan Horse roams

by TERRI DICKERSON/CDA Press Consumer Gal
| July 29, 2021 1:00 AM

Let’s face it, when we invite a digital voice assistant like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple Siri into our homes, we're essentially inviting a device that records and stores everything we say.

The things we say are then analyzed by a computer or maybe a human for reasons not completely known to us. But you can bet there's a reason our information is being gathered and then analyzed.

As consumers/users of technology, we have become so dependent upon our devices that it’s hard to believe we ever used to have to set an actual timer, walk over to the control panel to turn up the thermostat, or turn on the news to get the weather report.

These devices have caused consumers to change their behavior in profound ways because instant information at our voice command is appealing.

As a way to gain our acceptance to having these devices become staples in our homes, owners of the technology tell us that the devices are designed to only listen when called upon. But the truth appears to be more like the recordings are happening all the time because the devices are eavesdropping on us.

Think about when you're talking to someone in the room about buying something, and then ads for that product start showing up in your newsfeed the next time you login. Naysayers will say it's just a coincidence, but is it? This should be enough to make consumers concerned about not only their privacy but their security as well.

Bottom line: While these digital voice devices are seen as clever tools, you should be aware that they might never stop listening. They're plugged in all the time. With billions of dollars pouring into interpreting the data, don’t assume that these devices have a limited capacity to understand what's being said or how your information is being interpreted with your implied/complied consent.

But the question remains, is it too late to kick the Trojan Horse out of our homes because the damage has already been done or because we are simply too addicted to this intelligent technology to stop using it now?

In the meantime, hey Alexa, turn off the lights. That way I don’t need to get up and flip off the switch. I can only hope that the convenience ends up being worth the cost in the long run.

• • •

Cellphone insurance options

You can get insurance on just about anything these days. Cellphone insurance is often pitched as a real money saver for people who frequently drop or lose their phones. But is it really worth it?

Cellphone insurance companies agree to repair or replace your device when necessary. Often they provide you with a refurbished replacement phone, so it might not even be new.

There are two basic ways to purchase this type of insurance, either through your wireless carrier as an add-on fee to your monthly bill or through a third-party monthly subscription service.

As a general rule, people who get emotionally attached to their fun toys like TVs, cellphones and gaming consoles are more likely to purchase insurance because they feel like they can’t live without their device.

AT&T contracts with a company called Asurion for its insurance business while T-Mobile and Verizon use Assurant. Both of these insurance companies do promise next-day replacement for loss, theft, physical damage, liquid damage or mechanical defects after the manufacturer’s warranty ends.

The plans tend to run between $100 and $200 annually but have deductibles that range from $50 to $300 before any coverage is available. There may be other alternatives to consider besides purchasing cellphone insurance through your carriers.

You could look into AppleCare if you own an iPhone or SquareTrade which offers protection for either Android or iPhone devices.

You could check with your credit card company. Many offer free cellphone protection when you pay your monthly phone bill with that particular credit card, so that could be worth checking out. Also, if you're prone to dropping your phone, purchase a case to help protect it.

• • •

Rental car coverage

With the shortage of new cars, the price of rental cars has been skyrocketing. Why should you care? Because if you need to rent a car due to one of your vehicles becoming unserviceable, you may find out that your auto policy limits on car rentals might not cover the cost of the actual rental.

For example, if your insurance policy pays $30/day for a car rental but it costs you $50/day to rent a car, you'll be responsible for the difference.

It’s a good idea to review your policy with your insurance agent to see how much transportation coverage you're carrying and what you might need. After a quick review of car rentals in the area, it appears the least expensive option is $45/day but in most instances it is much higher — and that’s if you can even find a rental car.

If you have more than one driver in your household and are unlikely to need a rental car in the event you lose the use of one of your vehicles due to an insurance claim, it might be a good idea to review dropping that insurance coverage.

• • •

Remember: I’m on your side.

• • •

If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist, a veterans advocate and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.