Consumer privacy and digital security are major talking points in the smart home world, and for good reason. If you’re going to use multiple devices in your home that both hear and see almost everything you do, it’s important to trust in their manufacturer’s security practices. Amazon, Google, and Apple all came under intense scrutiny recently regarding their devices’ voice recordings and subsequent transcription. Amazon responded by allowing users to opt out of “human review” of recordings and introduced a feature that let users automatically delete any recordings the device made.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind. The recordings were not made with nefarious reasons, although personal information was recorded by accident. In the development of artificial intelligence (A.I.) like Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri, recordings are reviewed (and often transcribed) so that the algorithms responsible for the development of the A.I. can better parse and understand what’s said. It’s a common practice, but perhaps not common knowledge among the general public.
You shouldn’t be surprised that human workers review footage from the Amazon Cloud Cam. Amazon’s rivals have similar practices, and the truth is it really does improve the quality of motion sensors, language understanding, and much more. Any artificial intelligence application worth its salt will have had human review at some point in the development process. According to GeekWire, Dave Limp, Amazon’s Devices and Services chief, said that reviewing Amazon Alexa Hindi-language recordings improved accuracy by 30 percent within the first 90 days.
That doesn’t mean you have to be okay with the practice, nor does it mean you should trust every single device. While Amazon, Google, and Apple review your footage, their practices are laid out plainly on their privacy and security pages, as well as in the license agreements. The companies have too much to lose by way of customer backlash to resort to shady practices.
Smaller, off-brand devices can’t say the same. If you own a smart device that records footage or voice but isn’t from a major, recognized brand, take a bit of time and check out its privacy settings. You might be surprised by what you find, especially from some Chinese manufacturers. Even well-known Chinese brands like Huawei have been the focus of major security concerns.
It’s important to understand how artificial intelligence works and how developers strive to improve the responsiveness of devices, but it’s equally as important to speak out against practices (or the simple lack of information) that can endanger consumer privacy.