The year is 1984…. sorry, I meant 2018. Privacy can be bought, news is apparently ‘fake’ and is anyone online even real anymore?
Privacy: “A state where one is not observed or disturbed by other people”.
Think for a moment of the last time you truly experienced privacy. Where you had the ability to do, or say anything without anyone else knowing. I bet you’re picturing somewhere out in nature, or maybe in your own home? What I can guarantee you’re not thinking of, is anywhere where technology can reach you.
The reason why? Because by definition, as long as technology is present, it pretty much means that privacy can’t coexist with it. The two just aren’t compatible… much like the older model Apple earphones and the latest versions of the jackless-iPhone.
“92% of customers do not know or understand how their data is being used”
For the first time in History, it almost seems as though you need to opt into privacy, as opposed to it being a right at all. Despite copious regulations and it being a fundamental human right, it turns out there’s nowhere to hide as long as companies can twist the definition into something that suits their marketing ploys. Their best defence? That giving your personal data and information to them is actually in your benefit… so is this really the case?
Is There a Benefit to Giving Up Your Personal Information?
The short answer? There is none. Your personal information is for the most part valuable to companies, and this can lead to a more personalised user experience. That dress you clicked on ages ago that you then forgot about? It certainly saves you a lot of time trying to find it again a week later if it suddenly pops up in your news feed.
“81% of marketers share customer data across branches and departments without seeking consent to do so”
Creating a personalised experience is most companies top priority, the reason being that it does have a higher likelihood of influencing your decision to purchase. But the way I see it? This shouldn’t be used as a cover or an excuse, for companies to act unethically when it comes to your privacy.
Crossing the Line? A Case Study
In 2015, Samsung were investigated for a gross breach of customer privacy by recording the conversations of their customers through their Samsung smart TVs. This isn’t some made up dystopian novel, but an actual issue that’s becoming too real. The technology exists, and is being used for malicious marketing tactics, and while not all companies throw ethics out the window, the concern still exists.
“60% of marketers refuse to give up their personal information, because they understand how it’s typically used”
Epic, the consumer rights group at the forefront of the Samsung incident, claimed that “When the voice recognition feature is enabled, everything a user says in front of the Samsung SmartTV is recorded and transmitted over the internet to a third party, regardless of whether it is related to the provision of the service,” Epic states in its complaint.
User’s information was recorded, to create a better experience and gather information on how the Samsung products are used, and more importantly, on the preferences of the people who typically use them. Samsung defended their actions, by suggesting that the information gathered is useful in creating better, more useful products in the future. but really, what type of justification is this? How is it possible, for such personal, vulnerable conversations to be recorded and sent to a third party company without any disclosure to a customer?
Voice-controlled technology, much like the Samsung SmartTV is nothing new, if anything, it’s becoming deeply engrained in technological innovations. From Siri, to Alexa, we’re inviting virtual assistants into our homes and into the areas of our lives where companies can’t reach us as easily.
There’s Something Siri-ously Wrong with Voice Recognition
It used to be a common joke, how incorrect voice recognition was. I remember asking Siri where the nearest Village Cinemas were and she responded with all the areas in my state which were labelled as villages or towns. Not helpful. Now, voice recognition has improved so well that they’re typically only make an error 5.5% of the time. This $3.3 billion dollar industry is marketed heavily in almost every country and across every platform. But what is the risk of inviting these technologies into our private spaces?
For starters, these virtual assistants are personalised marketers in their own right. Scott Galloway, an expert in digital marketing claims that Amazon Echo is heavily-bias to their own products:
“In key categories like batteries, Alexa will suggest Amazon Basics, their private label, and play dumb about other choices (‘Sorry, that’s all I found!’) when there are several other brands on Amazon.com.”
But the risk isn’t as great as you’d assume. There seems to be a belief that these products are always listening, learning and collecting your data, and while this may be the case by some, and as long as there is no proof otherwise, we can only assume. Virtual User Interfaces, or VUI technologies are usually programmed to listen only for ‘keywords’, that is, brands, product categories or other mentions it picks up on that may be useful, not every conversations itself. Giants such as Google and Amazon have admitted this to an extent, saying that their products are passively listening out for their ‘wake up words’, such as ‘Ok, Google’.
How Can You Protect Your Privacy?
Your best bet, don’t catch on to the Home Assistant trends and when it comes to voice recognition like Siri, have a think about whether it’s really worth having her switched on or not. Really, how often do most people even use voice control?
Pay attention online when you sign up for anything, whether there’s a little checked box that states that you opt in to providing your information to third parties, it’s highly worth unchecking this as many seem pre-ticked these days. Some marketers would go as far as to tell you to create a seperate email used just for subscriptions, not personal accounts such as bank emails or work notifications and sensitive information.
Technology is only going to become more ingrained in society in the future, so it’s more important than ever that you keep up to date with your rights as a consumer in the tricky web of online privacy.