Smart automation simplifies our daily lives. As well, the use of smart personal assistants allows us to enjoy an increased our day to day comfort level. We can ask a smart assistant to turn on lights, turn down the heating, start the coffee-maker, or even see who is at the door, all without us lifting a finger. We get them to tell us jokes, search for restaurants, solve arguments about whether elephants can jump (for the record, they can’t), or play us arcane songs from our youth. This gives our lives an extra dimension of ease and fun that did not exist before smart assistants came on the scene.
However, in the case of the majority of smart personal assistants on the market today, to get this extra comfort in our daily lives, we are paying a far larger price than we realize. This price goes far beyond the physical cost of the device itself. In fact, talking to smart home devices has become so commonplace, that the majority of us do not even consider the extremely serious and invisible way we pay, even for doing something as inane as asking our assistants to play all Madonna’s top songs from the Eighties.
Let’s Talk About the Elephant
There is very large elephant in the room that few companies offering smart assistants ever talk about. We surrender a large portion of our private lives when we use vocal assistants, such as Alexa and Google Home. The assistants record everything we say and send it to be stored in the cloud. Even worse, the smart assistant often records and stores many things we say at home that are not even directed at it.
There has been recent pressure put on the large companies that produce smart assistants. Therefore, some of them have now put procedures in place to enable their customers to delete their stored data history. They have also allowed users to opt out of having their data used for research purposes. However, these options are not always clearly shown. The buyer must already have the knowledge that they have the right to their own data.
What Kind of Data do They Collect?
Companies can find out your exact habits, likes, and dislikes from this accumulation of personal data. They have a full profile of each user, and know their daily routines. Through your speech, they know what time you get up and switch on your smart lights, what you like to listen to while you eat your breakfast, and if you have children. They even know what time you leave the house to go to work. And that’s just your morning routine. Every request to the smart assistant, such as asking for certain types of music, advice for restaurants, or questions you have, helps build a better view of you and the way you think and act.
You know how hard it is to find a present for a friend or family member? Imagine if you knew about them what these data collection companies know about you. With all that knowledge, you could pick a present for them more easily than you could choose something for yourself. The companies use this data to improve their targeted marketing and increase their profits. They can tailor-make personal ads to show you things they know you want to buy. This is often even before you are conscious that you want a particular thing.
The Even More Sinister Side of Data Collection – Smart Assistant
If having big companies know more about you that your own mother is not enough, there is an even more sinister side to this data collection. Can you be one hundred percent confident that these large anonymous businesses will protect your data? We are putting a lot of trust in corporations to keep our private lives at home, where they should be. In August this year, Checkpoint Research reported serious vulnerabilities in the Alexa subdomains. This meant that malicious hackers could quietly add or delete skills from your device without you being aware of it. Not only that, but they could also steal your personal information and data history.
Amazon says that it has fixed this weak area of security in their system, but this kind of threat is always lurking. The smart assistant market is booming. Amazon alone has sold 200 million Alexa-powered devices this year. That is a colossal amount of personal data that the company has access to and is protecting. This does not even take into account all other data being collected from other smart assistants sold around the world.
So, do you still feel comfortable talking to your smart assistant?
It All Sounds Fairly Grim. Is There a Solution?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel for consumers who value their privacy. A few small companies have decided to take on the giants to offer an alternative. A small start-up in France called ProKNX is a good example. It has developed a solution to allow users the comfort of having a voice controlled smart assistant to control their homes, but keep all their data private at the same time.
Jens Kastensson, CTO of ProKNX stated that the idea of developing a smart assistant that works without Internet started because of their concerns about the users of smart assistants being obliged to give up their privacy to use the smart devices. He and the CEO, Christian Kiefel saw it as an unacceptable compromise, so decided to do something about it. They ran with that idea. They now produce two multi-lingual vocal assistants for different areas of the market that work completely offline.
As people are becoming more aware of their privacy rights, and more distrustful of large enterprises, the market for smart assistants that do not record data and completely respect your privacy is increasing. In the near future, we will be seeing more and more offerings of smart devices that do not need to record and keep our data. This may be the push needed to force larger companies to think about their data collection processes. We have the right to keep what we do at home private.
After all, do you really want the whole world to know that you are a hard-core Madonna fan?
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