Welcome to College, Alexa
St. Louis University is now the first college in the U.S. to install Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo Dots in every single dorm room across campus. This private four-year university in Missouri just unveiled their plan to install 2,300 of these smart speakers in student living spaces across campus before the start of the fall semester. The Alexa-enabled Echo Dots will be pre-programmed with over a hundred specialized questions regarding topics about student activities, questions about the campus, class schedules, public lectures, and even sports games.
This is the first time a university has implemented Amazon’s smart speaker technology to this degree, especially when it comes to residence halls and living quarters. The entire system of Dots will be managed by Amazon’s Alexa for Business and supported by Amazon Web Services, with no required set up by students. The network of devices will be controlled by a central system operating independently from any student’s individual account, and won’t retain any personal information. They will also be operated at no cost to students, with it being fully funded through a partnership with Amazon and university capital funding.
SLU vice president and chief information officer David Hakanson said in a statement, “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend focused on what matters most: their education.” School administration is particularly strong in their opinion that these Echo Dots will be able to save students valuable time when it comes to searching for campus information.
This, however, begs the question about the many privacy concerns of having an entire network of ‘always listening’ smart speakers in the rooms of every student on campus. SLU notes that, for those who do not wish to use Alexa, students are more than welcome to unplug the device and store it safely within their room. They are also quick to point out that “If they lose the Echo Dot, then they may face a charge.”
SLU isn’t the only college that has slowly begun implementing Alexa-enabled technology into the lives of their students. Northeastern University in Boston has given its students the option of getting an Echo Dot linked to their university account in the hopes it will be used as their very own personal digital assistant. These Echo Dots would be loaded with features like being able to ask how much a student owes the registrar, what time your health center appointment is, or see how much money is left on their food card. Since Echo Dots can’t differentiate between its user’s voices, it poses the risk of anyone being able to access potentially sensitive information.