“Alexa, do you care about my privacy?”
That was the question I asked the Amazon Echo that’s sat steadfast in my kitchen the past two years, curious to hear how it would respond.
“Sorry, I’m not sure,” the speaker replies.
Reassuring answer, right? And yet, if I were to ask myself the same question of myself in the mirror, I don’t think I could do much better.
There’s a certain level at which we’re complicit in the privacy problems that have plagued the technology industry in recent years. Amazon, Facebook, and Google have all had to answer for devices that have recorded unknowing users in order to transcribe and learn from the audio, and now Facebook has joined the party with clips from its Messenger app being reviewed by outside contractors, as the company acknowledged in a report from Bloomberg.
“Much like Apple and Google, we paused human review of audio more than a week ago,” Facebook told Bloomberg, noting that the individuals recorded chose to have their audio transcribed.
That’s where we come in. So in a rush most of us are for ease of access that we often blow past these opt-ins without even knowing. “The request for consent shall be presented in a manner which is clearly distinguishable from the other matters,” the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) reads, and yet, Facebook could send Mark Zuckerberg to my house (or perhaps we could speak over a cup of coffee at one of their “Privacy Cafes” in Europe) to tell me to my face that he’s recording me, and I’d probably just nod my head and walk away.
When people ask me if I worry about an Amazon employee or contractor listening in on me through my Echo devices, my response is always the same: “Boy, do I feel bad for the person who has that job.”
I lose no sleep over how much of my data privacy I potentially sacrifice in my daily life, and neither do most of us—deep down. If that weren’t the case, 91 percent of people wouldn’t admit to not reading legal terms and services conditions before consenting, as a Deloitte survey found in 2017. Millions wouldn’t rush to use FaceApp, only caring when they found out it was developed by a Russian company.
GPS, weather apps, streaming services—all these things that require us to give away something so personal as our location at any given moment, we can’t live without.
So as Facebook faces probes from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, or Apple and Google suspend the review of their respective recording services to avoid similar regulatory backlash, I won’t be among the chorus to call for change. In the end, companies will continue to do what they please with the data we so quickly are willing to give them, and the only true solution—a complete technology blackout—isn’t realistic for most of us.
When next asked if she cares about a person’s privacy, Alexa should reply, “Do you?” With some consideration, you might find your honest answer is “I’m not sure.”
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