During the holiday season, connected devices containing voice-activated assistants from Amazon (Alexa) and Google were among the most popular gifts. This week at the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES), lots of companies demonstrated many more future products infused with Alexa, Google, and Apple’s Siri. Including “smart” shower hardware.
But, according to the ACLU blog, you may want to think twice about placing an always-on, internet connected microphone in your home.
Overall, digital assistants and other IoT devices create a triple threat to privacy: from government, corporations, and hackers.
It is a significant thing to allow a live microphone in your private space (just as it is to allow them in our public spaces). Once the hardware is in place, and receiving electricity, and connected to the Internet, then you’re reduced to placing your trust in the hands of two things that unfortunately are less than reliable these days: 1) software, and 2) policy.
The constant potential for accidental recording means that users do not necessarily have complete control over what audio gets transmitted to the cloud.
Once their audio is recorded and transmitted to a company, users depend for their privacy on good policies—how it is analyzed; how long and by whom it is stored, and in what form; how it is secured; who else it may be shared with; and any other purposes it may be used for. This includes corporate policies (caveat emptor), but also our nation’s laws and Constitution.
Lots of pieces, technical and legal, that all have to work together to protect your information and privacy. I’m not convinced we’re there yet.
Heading off on an only slight detour, this issue of artificially intelligent assistants is something all of us educators need to watch. I’ve read of a few teachers who have placed Alexa and Google Home devices in their classrooms, although I’m not at all clear on the instructional purpose.
However, beyond that, many edtech companies are already building some form of data-collecting AI into their products. I fully expect to see always-listening, education-related devices being pitched to schools in the very near future, very likely with many of the same issues raised in this article.