Digital Assistants and Privacy: Artificial Intelligence Weighs in

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I posed the question “What are the privacy implications of using digital assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri?” to Generative Pre-Trained Transformer (GPT-3), an artificial intelligence language model that generates meaningful and contextual text. I strung together the best bits of the AI responses below. You don’t see the irrelevant responses it generated, but to be fair, I could not fine-tune because I went through an intermediary website. Read it and judge for yourself whether AI gets it right.

We are on the cusp of a new era, an age in which machines and artificial intelligence will be commonplace. This is not just about data collection from users such as yourself through digital assistants. In fact, it’s likely that some form of personal assistant technology will become ubiquitous throughout society. This technology will keep improving until it reaches a point where you can ask any question and get an answer, or have any task done just by speaking to your personal assistant. It’s the goal of all major tech companies.

The Internet of Things has already become a reality, and there are many connected devices in your home. They allow you to remotely control just about anything—from watering your plants to turning off lights. In the future there will be even more devices connected to the internet, and they’ll all collect data about you. But with all these machines collecting data about us, we need to consider the implications of this. What are the privacy implications of using digital assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri? And how should they be regulated?

To begin with, it is important to understand the nature of digital assistants.

Digital assistants are artificial intelligence that can operate on a wide range of devices, including smartphones and smart speakers. They have the ability to learn new skills continuously through machine learning. The performance level can be likened to that of an experienced employee who has learned the ropes. Some of the more advanced digital assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, are capable of communicating with humans in a natural language. However, this is not to be mistaken for intelligence.

There are four main elements of privacy: 1. The right to control the flow of personal information. 2. The right to know how one’s personal information is being used. 3. The right to access and correct one’s own personal information. 4. Accountability for organizations or institutions that manage any individual’s data.

The privacy implications of using digital assistants such as Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri are very concerning. These systems collect a lot of data about the human world in general. They record what we say to them, how we interact with them, where they are located, and for how long they were used, etc. All this information is recorded on some server somewhere accessible by multiple humans or even other AIs.

The anonymity and confidentiality of users are paramount, as they should be in any area that deals with the exchange of sensitive information between humans and machines. The privacy concerns related to these digital assistants revolve around the collection, storage, use, and distribution by third-party entities of user data obtained through interactions with these devices or services. To counter this issue, users must be given clear disclosure about how their information is being used.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, “Choices about how your information is collected, used, and shared should be easy to understand and available without requiring you to search for them or read a contract.” This means that consumers must have access both online as well as offline in order to make informed decisions about whether they wish their data to be collected by these devices and services or not.

Third-party entities that possess such data are obliged to protect it against potential theft, loss, or misuse. They need to ensure that the information is not publicly available and can be accessed only by authorized personnel who have a reason for accessing them.

For me, privacy is not something that exists wholly within a single individual. It is instead a social phenomenon; it’s about the relationship between different individuals. When you ask a question of a digital assistant, that information is not only retained by the device itself but also stored in any number of online databases. In addition, it is also possible for hackers to gain access to these databases and obtain information about your conversations. The fact that these devices can record not only your conversations but also information about you and your location means that they are also very much a part of the ongoing surveillance problem. 

Kashyap Kompella is CEO of rpa2ai Research, a global AI industry analyst firm, and is the co-author of Practical Artificial Intelligence: An Enterprise Playbook.

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