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Voice Recognition and Privacy

According to the consumer watchdog the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), consumer privacy in the modern world is not an outdated value, but a key democratic principle. This is especially difficult because electronics, technology and the Internet has resulted in a world where users are constantly encouraged to share personal information. However, there are serious privacy concerns over how cutting-edge devices can continually capture anything that is said by the user. Below introduces both sides of the issue and explores if a balance between technology and privacy is possible.

SmartTV Privacy Concerns

Samsung’s new SmartTV has an amazing voice-command feature that allows the user to control their RV through voice-recognition software. In a nutshell, the TV viewer can simply say what channel they want, as opposed to using the remote control. While this is a unique function is cool and convenient, it raises serious privacy concerns. That is, the Samsung’s official privacy policy for the new SmartTV actually warns users that anything they say may be sent to a third-party provider. Therefore, any conversation that takes place in front of the TV could be possibly listened to by someone else.

Samsung has responded to these consumer privacy concerns by emphasizing that the technology is optional and can be easily turned off. In addition to this, the SmartTV comes with standard industry safeguards, such as data encryption. However, Samsung has been notably silent about who exactly the third-party providers are and why they would need to monitor household conversations. Clearly, consumers need to be educate themselves on how technology can capture their private information and be careful of their conversations in front of their new SmartTV. EPIC has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because of numerous consumer objections over how Samsung regularly records private conversations.

Siri is a Serious Privacy Problem

Many Apple iPhone users like to joke about how Siri, the virtual assistant, sometimes says funny quips or makes painful observations about the user. For example, when asked why a calendar is empty, Siri may logically respond that the user has no friends. However, the disembodied robotic voice is actually a passive-listening technology that is always on. While users are able to turn off Siri, and other smart phone virtual assistants, they must first agree to the detailed terms and conditions before taking advantage of the valuable service.

Compared with Smart TVs, smart phone technology is more advanced and universally used across the world. While Samsung is silent about which third-party providers are listening, everybody knows who listens to recorded voice conversations. Text-to-speech analyzers work in a variety of different IT and tech companies to review and rate sound bites in order to improve accuracy and the software’s effectiveness. However, these job tasks are actually also open to the public. Crowdsourcing companies, such as Crowdflower, post micro jobs on the internet that users perform for a mere pittance, such as a penny for every 10 audio clips rated. Therefore, anyone with an Internet connection and time to kill can listen to random, anonymous audio clips from smart phone users around the world.

Privacy Solutions

Advantaged technology features, such as voice activated commands, offer consumers convenience and flexibility. These user-friendly options are able to save time and help those that are physically impaired. However, the companies that produce these amazing technologies have failed to proactively respond to privacy concerns raised by consumer advocacy groups. Still, local lawmakers can make a difference.

For example, California’s Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee recently unanimously voted and passed a bill that requires voice activated TV technology to be first accepted by the consumer and forbids manufacturers from using their voice records without approval from the consumer. This is an excellent example of how legislative bodies can protect consumers while enabling them to enjoy the benefits of the technology. Unfortunately, not all consumers are aware or protected by state laws. Consumers can educate themselves about technological privacy concerns through EPIC’s website here.

To sum up, voice activated technologies offer exciting functions, but they also expose the user’s private, personal information to third-party providers and even anonymous Internet users. Therefore, consumers should educate themselves about how technology collects their private data and voice recordings and protect themselves accordingly.