Advertisers are a risk multiplier: the more data they can access from each platform (excluding Apple, which promises not to sell data), the less privacy the user retains, and the greater the risk the data will be leaked or breached.
And the rich, intimate data collected by an always-listening, all-analysing digital assistant will be irresistible to governments, already fighting against users’ right to encryption.
If you ask Siri or Google a question, most countries treat your query as ‘beyond the scope of metadata retention’. The non-content chatter, however, is caught: when you speak, your phone seeks out the IP address of the service and initiates the session. Your phone’s location is also considered metadata.
It’s a safe bet that somewhere in the world, someone is researching the legal implications of what might be inferred by your interactions with a digital assistant.
Privacy protection is inadequate and internationally fragmented — regardless of who is trying to access your data. Can Australians, for example, rely on National Privacy Principles that American platforms don’t recognise?
And, there are also implications for businesses. If an always-listening digital assistant captures business conversations, which are then on-sold to third parties, who is responsible for leaking advance warnings of mergers or acquisitions that are being contemplated in a board room? This issue goes well beyond the privacy of individuals, and is something that should be publicly discussed and debated now — before the genie is out of the bottle.
The “perfect future” rests on gaining user privacy and security, not trying to recover them if things go wrong be recovered after things go wrong.