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Privacy & surveillance concerns over voice-recognition devices, Google Home & Amazon Echo

Introducing Google Home, a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant.
Introducing Google Home, a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant.
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Recently, when Google announced its own version of Amazon's voice-recognition digital home assistant, the company did not spend a moment addressing any privacy safeguards nor concerns.

As Wall Street Journal tech reporter Geoffrey Fowler tweeted: "So just to review, Google says it wants to install microphones all over your house. And didn't talk about privacy."

In addition to Google's Home device (with the assisting software named "Assistant") and Amazon's Echo (with software named "Alexa"), Apple is trying to broaden Siri's capabilities and Sony is developing its Xperia Agent, each with the initial aim of controlling a smart-home universe including music stereos, lighting, temperature, sprinklers, even security. The hands-free devices work by being programmed to recognize the voices of their owners. One privacy safeguard with the Echo is that the device is engineered to light up when it's listening, plus users can delete voice command history. Americans have been buying the Echo so quickly that market researchers call it a sleeper hit, with an estimated 3 million sold in the last two years.

The products are not just hands-free remote controls, their artificial intelligence personas tell jokes and learn from their interactions with users.

On AirTalk, we'll discuss and debate whether the technologies are worth any privacy trade-offs, or whether Americans should be wary of inviting the potential of Big Brother in their homes.


Aleecia McDonald, Non-resident fellow, Center for Internet and Society, Stanford Law School

Douglas Rushkoff, writer, documentarian, and lecturer whose work focuses on human autonomy in a digital age; His latest book is titled “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity”