Privacy and trust in the smarthome
APC’s editor mulls over what the arrival of AI home assistants means for our digital privacy.
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?
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF dan.gardiner@ futurenet.com