News emerged last week that certain Samsung Smart TVs are ‘listening in’ to owners’ private conversations. At least, that is the impression you will have got if you rely on the tabloid press for your news. In reality, Samsung released a statement explaining how their range of Smart TVs monitor conversations for certain key words, but only after the feature was enabled by pressing a button on the remote! Samsung explained that once this button was pressed, the TV would record the conversation, send it through the net to be analysed and the results are then funnelled back to your TV. The Korean tech giant assured its customers that no data was held or passed to any third parties, but it still urged people to avoid talking about personal issues in front of the TV.
This is clearly just a large tech firm covering themselves in case some hacker finds a way to access and utilise the data collected, but it does call to mind similar stories from the last few years. In 2014, Xbox One owners were surprised to find their devices switching themselves on during adverts for the Microsoft gaming machine featuring actor Aaron Paul saying “Xbox on”. That’s really not so shocking, is it? Broadcasting the words used to switch a device on is going to cause devices to switch on, surely? That just proves that the voice recognition system works perfectly. In 2013, LG came under fire over the way its Smart TVs collected data on users viewing habits in order to deliver targeted advertising.
So, what is the issue here? A long-standing complaint about technology is the erosion of individual privacy. Facebook tracks the internet traffic of its users in order to more accurately target advertising, smartphones can be used to track the owner (either with or without their consent), the British government have been talking about banning any encrypted communication technology as part of their faltered ‘snoopers charter’. We all want to be connected and with the rise of mobile technology, we are. But this comes with a price. We all upload personal information to social media sites as a matter of course, but then we get upset when the social media site uses this information as a way of generating income.
In addition, this kind of public scare undermines confidence in the technology and erodes trust in the companies using and creating these technologies. The ubiquitous nature of advertising has already created a jaded audience, hence the need for new and improved types of targeted marketing strategies, but we should be careful how we collect data in order to find our audience. We should certainly be careful about anything that might be considered invasive. Take a look at this sensible and balanced take on the story from Fox, and compare to this debate from Bloomberg. Which side do we, as businesses, come down on?
But, as consumers, where do we draw the line? When do we stop exchanging privacy for convenience? This is an important discussion, one that is charged with emotive issues, so why are we not really having it?
Part of the problem is that we assume ownership of our information, even after we inject it into the public domain (and yes, Facebook is the public domain, regardless of your privacy settings). We want to be able to control who can access that information, to prevent certain corporations, individuals and government agencies getting hold of it. We also want to be able to disseminate this information in the way that we see fit. These may be mutually exclusive goals. Something shared on a social media site can be seen millions of times, and by people all across the globe, which is one of the great things about internet technology. It is perfect for building your brand, be it personal or professional, and connecting with people worldwide.
Government oversight is a contentious issue with many people, especially in the current climate. We want government agencies to keep us safe, obviously, but we also know that we are not planning terrorist or criminal acts. Therefore, there is no reason for the government to spy on us, just those other people, the dangerous ones. This is clearly nonsensical. The government must be able to access either everyone’s data, or no one’s. The typical attitude of many is embodied in that famous quote from American statesman Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
It is in business that things become even more serious. The use of smartphones is so widespread that you can be certain that at least one person in any high-stakes boardroom meeting will have one. What if you could use that smartphone to eavesdrop on the meeting? What advantages could that offer your own business? More to the point, how can you be sure that no one is using your smartphone to eavesdrop on you? The more we rely on internet technology, the more ways there will be to use that technology against us. The anti-corporate and anti-government antics of groups like Anonymous show us just how vulnerable we are to cyber attack, but the real future danger does not lie in DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks, but in espionage.
What are we doing to prevent this? How aware are we of the dangers? Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts. Let’s get a conversation started.