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  • Aparna Ghantasala

The middle ground- Can Smart Speaker users feel Safe while Companies collect personal data?

Smart speakers such as Amazon Echo or Google Home have gained popularity over few years and many people have integrated these devices into their homes. Many enjoy interacting through voice commands, but just over half of smart speaker owners are concerned about the amount of data collected by these devices. With mixed views, a majority of smart speaker owners are do not seek personalization.


Smart Speakers have widely publicized issues with privacy, data collection or the fact that they reportedly pay employees or external contractors to listen to recordings. Collecting data improves the software’s algorithms through machine learning to train a device to identify patterns in words and phrases. These devices wait to listen and record sensitive/ personal information which could potentially be leaked through these devices.


This is an aggressive business model, but many smart speaker owners don’t realize it, that the companies keep a copy of everything smart speakers record after they hear the “wake work”, it’s name. Even tech-savvy users don’t understand the full extent of the privacy risks, and become aware only after researchers or the press raise the issue.


The expansion of the Internet of Things(IoT) presents a tricky problem for lawmakers when it comes to protecting user’s security and privacy. There is no national standard for security on IoT devices, leaving it up to each company to determine how best to do so.


So, what is the middle ground, where users are safe and aware of how their privacy is protected and concurrently enough data is received by companies to improve human speaker interaction?


Users must be in control of their information and should be able to decide what information they would wish to share with companies. They are at advantage, where they can delete personal information from their cloud and protect their families before the information sync’s to the company’s infrastructure.


Keeping in mind the company’s benefit, UX designers can design an interface, where the user is notified when a smart speaker starts recording and they can make an appropriate decision. Users can review their recordings before it is uploaded to the company cloud, and delete any private recordings. Bulk delete should be discouraged, however all the settings could be customized. This could be the “sweet spot” where companies benefit with sufficient data while protecting user’s privacy.


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