business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Associated Press decided to look around to see what products were getting panned at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, and it ended up that Amazon and Instacart were among the companies mentioned.

•  The AP points to one of the criticisms was of Amazon's partnership with BMW, which will put the Alexa voice assistant technology into automobiles.

According to the story, "Powered by a large language model — the type of AI system behind chatbots like ChatGPT — Amazon says an Alexa 'car expert' will be able to provide 'quick instructions and answers about vehicle functions in a much more human, conversation-like manner, and even act on your behalf.'

"Being able to ask Alexa to unlock the front door or turn off the porch light sounds convenient."


"'We have seen an increasing number of horrific stories where people, generally women, who are trying to escape abusive domestic situations end up having their cars serve as tracking and abuse vectors,' said a 'Worst in Show' judge’s comment from Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"She added: 'Alexa and BMW — and frankly all of the car companies who are racing to turn our cars into tracking devices — need to ensure that victims can turn this off'."

BMW has promised that drivers will have the option to turn the technology off.

•  The AP writes that Nathan Proctor, the national campaign director for U.S. PIRG, a consumer advocacy group, designated  the new video ads on Instacart’s 'AI-powered' shopping cart" as his worst-in-show product:  "equipped with cameras and sensors, the cart has a screen that will share real-time recommendations based on what customers put in the cart, like advertising ice cream if a customer buys cones."

Proctor says that "it uses historic shopping behavior to push junk foods you’ve bought before.  Grocery stores are overwhelming and navigating promotions is exhausting, and I question the sanity of whoever thought we should make it worse.”

KC's View:

The larger issue is whether all this technology is creating a privacy-free world.  In some ways, we're already there - but the worry is that it only will get worse.  Not dystopian, of course.  At least, not yet.