Spin this one any way you think it works. Yes, we all know that Google, Amazon, and Facebook spy on us. We’re tracked by Echo and Alexa, Home and Assistant, and through all those friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors we like on Facebook.
What else is new?
How about this one? Let’s say you have friends over to your house for dinner, drinks, and, of course, some conversation. Do you tell them they’re being spied on?
Here’s the deal. If you have Amazon Echo in the living room, Amazon listens for commands to send Alexa into action, but the device also listens to the conversations with others and the online retail giant gathers ever more information about you.
That’s a known spy for you, but do your neighbors know they’re being spied on by Amazon?
Google’s Home gadgets work the same way. Assistant sits patiently waiting for your next command by listening to everything. Simply by buying the talking speaker, we’re giving it the right to listen, but do you warn your neighbors they’re being spied upon by Google?
Do you have a moral obligation to tell anyone who comes into your house that your gadgets are always on, always listening, and something they say may be captured and stored by Google, Facebook, Amazon, and perhaps even Apple?
Google’s VP of services and devices, Rick Osterloh, had this to say.
It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity. Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.
In simpler terms, yes. Or, at worst, maybe.
Let’s say that you’re the guest in someone else’s home and they have gadgets from Amazon, Google, Facebook, and even Apple– all of which have an always-on option to listen to sounds to grab a command.
As you survey the living room or other rooms you’ll see an Echo or iPads or iPhones or a Google Nest Hub Max or maybe even Facebook’s Portal– all of which are listening. Will you be more careful about what you say during the conversation?
None of these devices and their talking spirits have the ability to distinguish one voice from another. How hasn’t had Siri go off on iPhone or iPad based on some stray sound from the TV? If they cannot determine one voice from another, that means they’re listening to all voices, and may capture sounds– something you say– that you don’t want anyone else to hear, and definitely, don’t want a device to record what you said.
Are you spying on your guests? Are your guest’s devices spying on you? How should such a situation be handled? “Siri, go to sleep for an hour” sounds reasonable. Or, even better, let’s say Siri detects a strange voice and asks you, “Bob, I see you have guests; do you want me to go to sleep for an hour?”
Unless tech giants with always-on listening devices figure out that privacy needs broader reach, this isn’t going to end well.