Pri­vacy and trust in the smarthome

APC’s ed­i­tor mulls over what the ar­rival of AI home as­sis­tants means for our dig­i­tal pri­vacy.

APC Australia - - News -

Google Home has fi­nally launched in Aus­tralia and it could be just what the smarthome rev­o­lu­tion has been wait­ing for. On its own, Home is a pretty neat smart speaker that’s able to stream mu­sic and do gen­eral ‘smart AI as­sis­tant’ things, like an­swer sim­ple ques­tions by Googling them and read­ing out the an­swer, add items to your shop­ping list and ap­point­ments to your cal­en­dar, or tell you what to­day’s weather is.

Re­ally, the Home’s nifti­est fea­ture is ar­guably its abil­ity to act as a smarthome hub. This is the de­vice the smarthome has needed since the be­gin­ning, as it’s able to tie to­gether a whole bunch of dis­parate third­party smarthome de­vices and sys­tems and let you con­trol them, in­di­vid­u­ally or as groups, just us­ing your voice.

So should you get one? Per­son­ally, I am still on the fence. That’s be­cause Home brings with it a whole fish­tank full of pri­vacy con­cerns that I don’t quite have all the an­swers to. Some of that is be­cause they re­late to big-pic­ture ques­tions about our dig­i­tally-driven lives — like how much pri­vacy can we ex­pect, how much we’re en­ti­tled to... and, per­haps most per­ti­nently, how much we’re vol­un­tar­ily will­ing to give up.

That is­sue of pri­vacy largely re­volves around who we trust — and for most of us, that’s a very per­sonal de­ci­sion. Can we trust big tech com­pa­nies with our pri­vate lives? The jury is still very much out on that one. While they’ve made en­cour­ag­ing moves — such as be­ing bullish in the face of gov­ern­ment re­quests to cre­ate back­doors in en­crypted prod­ucts — the level to which I trust dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies greatly varies.

I’d rate Ap­ple as the most trust­wor­thy tech gi­ant when it comes to pri­vacy, sim­ply be­cause all its prod­ucts are paid-for and it makes its money di­rectly from the con­sumer. (That doesn’t, how­ever, mean I agree with all its business prac­tices...) Google’s over­ar­ch­ing business model, on the other hand, is very much one where you are the prod­uct — if you’re us­ing its free ser­vices, it’s col­lect­ing data about you that’s geared to­wards sell­ing ads. I’m mostly OK with that, and Google does ac­tu­ally of­fer ac­count tools that let you turn this off, if you wish. That gen­eral trans­parency means I’m will­ing to give the com­pany a fair amount of my trust — al­though (like many APC read­ers, I’m sure) I’m not cer­tain whether that trust should ex­tend as far as hav­ing an al­ways-on, Google-pow­ered lis­ten­ing de­vice sit­ting in my liv­ing area... What do you think?

DAN GAR­DINER

ED­I­TOR-IN-CHIEF dan.gar­diner@ fu­turenet.com

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