California fires: smart speakers and emergency alerts

Sean Donelan sean at
Thu Jul 26 16:11:36 UTC 2018

After wildfires killed 40+ people in northern California last fall, I 
asked if Amazon and Google had any plans to include emergency alerts 
in their smart speaker/intelligent assistant products.  Smart speakers 
seem like a way to alert people to imminent life-threatening danger during 
the night when they may be asleep or not aware of it.

Probably not a surprise, the product managers at Amazon and Google didn't 
see a benefit.  Instead of emergency alerts, instead the product 
improvement roadmap priority is on package tracking and delivery alerts :-)

Also shouldn't be a surprise. Senator Schatz and Representative Gabbard 
have introduced bills to study the feasibility of establishing systems 
and signalling for emergency alerts to Internet audio and video streaming 
services. Its just a proposed bill for a study, for now.

My opinion is it makes more sense to do emergency alerts at the smart 
device level (smart speaker, smart tv, smart streaming box) rather than at 
the content layer (hulu, netflix, spotify). Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant 
and Microsoft Cortana want to keep track of everything else in my life, 
why not if there is an emergency alert at my current location.

There is a lot of opportunity to come up with better ways to notify people 
in ways they want, when they want, beyond tracking their package 
deliveries. And since its at the voluntary stage now, a chance to shape 
the discussion.
S. 3238
To improve oversight by the Federal Communications Commission of 
the wireless and broadcast emergency alert systems.


(a) Study.—Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this 
Act, the Commission shall complete an inquiry to examine the feasibility 
of establishing systems and signaling to offer Emergency Alert System 
alerts to audio and video streaming services delivered over the internet.

(b) Report.—Not later than 90 days after completing the inquiry under 
subsection (a), the Commission shall submit a report on the findings and 
conclusions of the inquiry to—

(1) the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate; 

(2) the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives.

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