Tech investor John Borthwick believes the convenience of today’s smart assistants from Amazon, Google and Apple comes at a price far higher than the cost paid for the devices.
‘From a consumer standpoint, user standpoint, is that these, these devices are being used for what’s — it’s hard to call it anything but surveillance,’ Borthwick says, warning that government regulation may be the only safeguard to user privacy.
Borthwick, a venture capitalist who started out in the technology industry with a web content studio that was bought by AOL, and who later headed tech strategy for Time Warner, tells Yahoo that he expects regulators will hand over more control of privacy to device users.
As it stands now, he warns tech companies that manufacture and sell popular smart speakers, like Amazon’s Echo, Google Assistant and Apple’s HomePod, are having much more than they’re audible responses recorded.
‘They’ve gone to those devices and they’ve said, ‘Give us data when people passively act upon the device.’ So in other words, I walk over to that light switch,’ Borthwick said. ‘I turn it off, turn it on, it’s now giving data back to the smart speaker.’
Tech companies provide an activation, or ‘wake’ command with most devices.
Amazon’s Echo, for example, will not respond until it hears a user say ‘Alexa,’ followed by a command. A similar protocol is followed with Google Assistant, and when an Apple product user requires help from Siri.
Borthwick, however, points out how the speakers are connected with other products, where surveillance is less obvious.
‘These smart speakers– I was particularly sort of disturbed by– it sounds very wonky, but the– the smart speakers are driven by an implication,’ he tells Yahoo.
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