Consumers concerned over smart speaker privacy, but keep on buying them

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Published: September 5, 2019 2:14 PM

Privacy advocates fear unclear terms of service details or platforms transcribing conversations without user’s knowing could be a breach of their rights.

Consumers are worried machines by Amazon and Google are eavesdropping on them at home, but that’s not stopping purchases.
Despite increasing concerns about “passive listening” and privacy risks, more people are buying smart speakers like Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and the Google Home, according to a Capgemini Research Institute report released Thursday. Almost half of the survey’s 12,000 respondents who live in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany have a voice-activated device, up from 25% who reported owning one in November 2017. However, 52% were worried their voice assistants were listening to their private conversations.

Regulators are increasingly reviewing privacy around smart speakers and voice data. Hamburg’s data protection authority is probing Facebook Inc.’s use of transcribing audio from people who opt-in to voice-to-text services, while Google has agreed to stop transcribing voice recordings in the EU amid a German investigation.

Bloomberg News earlier this year reported that Amazon.com and Apple Inc. had teams analysing recordings. The Guardian reported in July that some of the people reviewing the Siri requests heard private personal details and possibly criminal activity. Apple Inc., Amazon, and Facebook have all suspended or amended policies regarding human analysis of user commands.

Facebook has also been transcribing the audio of users who chose the option in Facebook’s Messenger app to have their voice chats transcribed. While users could opt in to service, there was no mention of human involvement in its permissions or information pages. The human review was aimed at checking whether Facebook’s artificial intelligence correctly interpreted the messages.

Privacy advocates fear unclear terms of service details or platforms transcribing conversations without user’s knowing could be a breach of their rights.

“That’s not our idea of consent,” U.K. nonprofit organisation Privacy International wrote in an open letter to Jeff Bezos. “We believe the default settings should be there to protect your users’ privacy. Millions of customers enjoy your product and they deserve better from you.”

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