Google Is Always Listening. Should I Be Concerned?

Back around 1975, I met a guy who told me the most incredible news: he was working on “speech recognition software.” “You mean I will be able to talk into a computer and it will write down what I say?” I said. “That is incredible!”

It was incredible. And I started using speech recognition technology as soon as I could get my hands on it. In the 90’s, I dictated notes and emails with the first version of “Dragon” software. Now I use Siri for everything from writing notes to dictating texts to writing blog posts, and I’ve even prepared Sunday messages on my iPhone. I love it. I love saying, “Google, what was Toto’s big song?” and it tells me. Or, “Siri, take me to the nearest Trader Joe’s”, and Siri tells me, “In 200 yards turn right on Penn Avenue.”

But some of my kids think I’m treading dangerous water. Especially when I saw an ad for the “Amazon Echo”, which is a cylinder you place anywhere in a room, and it listens continually. When you say the “wake word” – “Echo” or “Alexa” – it “wakes up” and responds to your commands to “Play ‘Piano Man’, or, “Tell me how to spell Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” or, “Tell me the original lead singer for Kansas,” or, “How do I make shrimp alfredo?”

“I want one of those!” I yelled as soon as I watched the video on Amazon’s site. “Dad, NO!” screamed one of my kids who will remain nameless. “It’s listening all the time and recording everything you say.” “I don’t care,” I said. “I don’t have anything to hide. Maybe it will tell all my friends what to get me on my birthday.”

I’ve been told Google records every word I type and knows my every preference. Google is always listening. Hey Google, make me some coffee….you know…that kind I really like. (Let’s see what happens). Recently a speech recognition program developer Tal Ater, discovered “an exploit in (Google) Chrome’s speech recognition that enabled unscrupulous websites with speech recognition software to listen in when users aren’t expecting.” Well, maybe some of those unscrupulous website folks will hear me share the gospel and get saved.

Maybe I should be worried. I hope I don’t write a post someday about my bank account being hacked by Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone. But I’m more concerned (and comforted) that someone else is always listening to me:

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Psalm 139:1-6

This Scripture gives me both healthy fear and wonderful comfort. A healthy fear: even if no one else sees me, God does. He knows when I sit down and when I rise up. He sees me when I’m alone in an airport far from home. He sees me in my car. Late at night, when everyone’s gone to bed. When I’m alone on my computer. And he knows my thoughts from afar. He hears my every grumbling thought and every grateful whisper. Before a word is on my tongue he knows exactly what I’ll say. Nothing – not even my thoughts – are hidden from the Lord. This produces a healthy fear of the Lord in me. I don’t want to sin. I ask the Lord to deliver me from temptation. I want to have pure motives. I want to be thankful.

This Scripture also gives me wonderful comfort. My heavenly Father knows exactly what I’m going through, and he is with me in every single situation. “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” Nothing can get to me unless it first goes through my God. He knows me intimately and knows exactly what I need to go through to become more like Jesus and how much I can handle. He knows exactly how to reveal my weakness and he knows how to fill me with strength. He knows what’s going to happen today and next year. He knows my every flaw and failure, yet because of his Son Jesus, he loves me deeply and intimately as his own son.

Not only that, but he sees every act of kindness and every act of service, no matter how small. He sees when we give someone a glass of water. He hears every encouragement, every prayer. He sees every widow’s mite dropped in the offering. Every meal for a sick person, every dollar given to the poor. And he won’t forget a single penny or word.

If I ever get an Echo, I’ll enjoy knowing it’s always listening to me, ready to tell me the weather or remind me about my dentist appointment, but I’m so grateful my Father is always listening and I can lift my requests to him day and night. So grateful he loves me and cares for me and surrounds me with his steadfast love.

Wow, a cup of my favorite coffee just appeared on my desk…

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.