Last month, in a nod to Data Privacy Day, we discussed how surveillance by government bodies for security can breach our private data. To quote Gartner on the issue, “now is the time to plan how to ensure that company and customer data can be protected when private and public cloud services are used”.
The wording makes it clear that the mission to protect data is still very much a work in progress. While ethical use of personal data is possible and can be helpful in improving services, for now there is a clear lack of emphasis on the sanctity of data amongst companies all too willing to store unwittingly-provided information, or to pass sensitive information from our living rooms on to unspecified third parties.
This month, the media seized on the warning issued by Samsung to accompany the Voice Recognition feature on its smart television Smart TV as an example, and likened the message to that of Orwell’s 1984 – garnering paranoia amongst consumers generally happy with the status quo and comfortable with sharing their information for good use.
“Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition,” Samsung explained. Not to mention that it could also be hacked by a party not necessarily even of Samsung’s choosing.
Corynne McSherry, an intellectual property lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Daily Beast (who initially generated the story) that third parties would include the company providing speech-to-text conversion for Samsung.
Samsung responded to The Guardian: “Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously. We employ industry-standard security safeguards…Should consumers enable the voice recognition capability, the voice data consists of TV commands or search sentences, only. Samsung does not retain voice data or sell it to third parties. If a consumer consents and uses the voice recognition feature, voice data is provided to a third party during a requested voice command search.”
The discussion surrounding the Smart TV skims the surface of the debate; breaches can happen all the time, via baby monitors, webcams and external CCTV. The logging of our private spoken conversations seems somehow more clearly intrusive than a list of our search engine searches or our shopping preferences. It is not merely what can be described as ‘data’ being collected, it is a full-on recording.
If it remains illegal to record court hearings in the UK, how can it be legal to document what we blurt out from the sofa? Online television applications and services that use voice recognition will have to make a point of playing by the rules of the Data Protection Act and avoiding improper or unclear use, lest they risk permanently damaging trust with consumers and compromising their place in the home. As the Internet of Things continues to develop, clarity is vital.