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The Dark Side of Media and Technology

A 21st Century Guide to Media and Technological Literacy

Edited By Edward Downs

The Dark Side of Media and Technology: A 21st Century Guide to Media and Technological Literacy is Herculean in its effort to survey for landmines in a rapidly changing media landscape. The book identifies four dark outcomes related to media and technology use in the 21st century, and balances the dark side with four points of light that are the keys to taking ownership of a media- and technology-saturated world. The text contains an impressive list of multi-disciplinary experts and cutting-edge researchers who approach 25 separate dark side issues with concise, highly readable chapters, replete with unique recommendations for navigating our mediated present and future.

The Dark Side of Media and Technology is grounded in theory and current research, but possesses an appeal similar to a page-turning dystopian novel; as a result, this volume should be of interest to scholars, students, and curious lay-readers alike. It should be the "go-to" text for anyone who is interested in learning what the research says about how we use media and technology, as well as how media and technology use us.

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Chapter Seventeen: Smart but Nosy: Gratifications of Ubiquitous Media That Threaten Our Privacy (S. Shyam Sundar / Andrew Gambino / Jinyoung Kim)


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Smart but Nosy

Gratifications of Ubiquitous Media That Threaten Our Privacy


In November of 2015, the dark side of Amazon Echo came to public limelight when its controversial recording feature was used to help investigate a murder (McLaughlin, 2017). A former Georgia police officer was found dead in his friend’s hot tub after a night of football and heavy drinking. With evidence of a struggle, but no witnesses, nor anyone to verify the homeowner’s alibi, police turned to the homeowner’s Echo device, which is always listening, recording all interactions and storing all commands following the wake word (“Alexa”) on a server, making it a potential witness. The police also examined the owner’s smart watering system and claimed that he used excessive water during the night to cover up the crime. Prosecutors’ reliance on these devices brought attention to the pervasiveness of smart technologies that continually track our activities and record our lives, often unobtrusively and without informed consent.

Devices that gather enough information to potentially convict their owners of crimes are not merely emerging, but thriving. This is because they provide a variety of distinct gratifications to their users. Smart TVs can successfully predict and record media content based on prior behaviors, and virtual assistants provide news, information, entertainment and even shopping with more convenience than smartphone interactions. Smart technologies are at our beck and...

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