"Caring as Surveillance: AI Voice Assistants as Elder Care in the Home", present by Dr. Miriam E. Sweeney



11 a.m., April 14, 2023

Abstract: “More peace of mind as your loved ones need more care.” This tag line appears in large, bolded letters on Amazon’s website advertising their service, Alexa Together.  Described as a “new way to provide support for your loved ones, keeping you together even when you're apart,” this “caregiving service” requires a subscription and an Amazon Echo device to facilitate the remote support of elderly family members, including control of household devices and increased surveillance opportunities. Using Alexa Together as one example, I consider how the frame of caregiving may be leveraged to “smooth” people’s concerns about privacy and data gathering in voice assistants, and justify intensified surveillance for elder adults and disabled family members as a function of market segmentation. The framing of surveillant technologies as caregivers both reflects and reproduces the extractive logics of algorithmic culture that transforms social relationships into opportunities for data gathering.

Bio: Dr. Miriam E. Sweeney is an associate professor of library and information studies at the University of Alabama. She studies the design, use, and meaning of technology in society.  Dr. Sweeney’s research has predominately focused on anthropomorphic interface design (e.g. chatbots, digital assistants), voice interfaces, artificial intelligence, and big data infrastructures with attention to issues of values in design, privacy, and ethics. Her current research examines issues of privacy, autonomy, and surveillance in voice assistant services raising questions about how voice assistant design and infrastructure might better account for data privacy, user autonomy, and consumer protections.