Cuban expatriate Antonio Prohias created these guys and they’ve been published in MAD Magazine ever since 1961. They’re essentially two versions of the same spy. The only difference is one has a white suit and the other’s is black. Prohias had them chasing each other and trying to put one another out of business.
Fast forward to today. Both of these cartoon fellas are still at it. But they have new competition. We call it Spy vs. Spy 2.0 to give a modern and high tech twist to an old story.
The 2.0 crowd has no physical features. No black suit. No white suit. No beak-like faces. We don’t yet know about the bombs behind their backs. But they are far more dangerous.
No bodies, but they do have names.
Siri is the spy who lives in your Apple devices.
Alexa is the spy who lives in your Amazon.com devices.
Cortana is the spy who lives in Windows 10.
Hey is not really a name. But to summon her, all you have to say is “Hey, Google!” Kind of magic words.
Spies live secret lives. Unless they get caught, we never know who among us is one of flesh and blood. But the techno spies make no secret of who they are or even where they are.
You summon them by name or magic words and they appear in your ears to do their day jobs. These include looking up stuff on the internet, finding things you want to read, ordering merchandise, making phone calls… that kind of thing.
But no matter what you say, they’re listening.
Let’s say you have a Poodle named Ralph. Ralph is asleep over in the corner on his rug. His paws are extended forward and he rests his head on them. He’s having doggy dreams.
But if you suddenly say “Hey, Ralph,” Ralph wakes up -- usually instantly -- and looks at you as if to say “What’s up, boss?”
It’s what dogs do. But the spies don’t have feet or eyes. And they never sleep. In order to respond to the commands, they have to listen to everything.
When you tell Alexa to find the nearest Pizza joint, she doesn’t stand up groggily shake or stretch to get the kinks of sleep out. She’s there right away and she’s ready for action.
In order to do that, the spy has to be listening to everything that goes on in the room. Everything. That argument you’re having with your spouse. Your side of the phone conversation you’re having with the collection agent, the customer service agent, the landlord or your Aunt Tilly in the nursing home.
Always listening. Always alert.
And these gizmos are getting smarter all the time.
“Siri, open ‘backpage.com.’”
“Sorry. The government seized the page because there were hooker ads and maybe sex traffickers and other nefarious characters. It no longer can be opened.”
“Hey, Cortana,” where is the best place to buy a pizza around here?”
“There are 15 places that serve Pizza within three miles of here.” (Reads list.)
But if you think about it, the spies are taking in all kinds of other information about you. Maybe they know about your checking account balance from the most recent time you checked your bank’s web app. Maybe they know you’re planning a surprise party for your spouse. Will they spill the beans ahead of time? Unknown.
Warrantless searches by private parties are not illegal. If you break into the house down the block and snoop, maybe find some suspicious activity, the court won’t throw out the evidence. Warrants are for cops and prosecutors. Other than that, you may be charged with breaking-and-entering or even burglary. But what you discover can’t be excluded if you find 400 unpaid traffic tickets in the house you burgled.
So as we have discovered from Facebook v. Everyone else, all this stuff is sitting in computers in someone’s data farm.
And they’ll sell you to the highest bidder.
Advice for the victims? Unplug.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2018