Data Privacy in the Age of Alexa

Reading the technology media coverage of both CES 2018 and the post-Christmas sales, it feels like smart devices are finally having their much predicted moment. Every consumer technology vendor seems to have their own take on the smart device, from Amazon and Google’s smart home hubs to Philip’s connected lightbulbs and Samsung’s internet enabled fridge. The rate of ownership of these particular devices may not be that high, with only 18% of UK households reporting owning one, however, if we include other connected devices such as wearables and smartphones, then it becomes very clear that these devices are appearing everywhere.

Internet connected devices have certainly made our lives easier and even have wide reaching potential for making our cities safer and more responsive for example through monitoring pollution and optimising traffic flow. Yet, as Data Privacy Day approaches, it is vital that we consider how all these devices will affect the use and collection of personal data.

A key part of Data Privacy Day, and the wider practice of data protection and privacy, is ensuring that individuals are aware of how their personal information is being used, collected and shared. This is vital for both consumers and businesses. Consumers should feel confident that their data is being used fairly and should be able to own their online presence, and businesses should be able to use customer data to improve and market their services in ethical and innovative ways. Awareness of the issue of data privacy is certainly growing, with IDC research published in 2017 finding that 84% of US consumers are concerned about the security of their personally identifiable information and with research from the UK Information Commissioners’ Office in 2016 showing that only one in four people trust businesses with their personal information. These concerns are likely to have been validated by last year’s Equifax breach.

Data Privacy Day 2018

Smart devices add a whole new dimension to these privacy concerns, however, due to the range of data which they are capable of collecting. Your Fitbit can collect data on how you sleep, your phone can record your location and (most importantly) your Smart Home Hub can record your voice. This certainly raises serious privacy concerns. Whilst we assume that the companies we use will collect our data, such as our browsing history and interests, and use it, this can often feel like a relatively impersonal exchange. You do, after all, have a degree of control over what you type into a search engine.

However, when you add data on how and when you sleep, voice recordings of what you say and do in your house and data on where and when you exercise, this data collection can suddenly feel incredibly personal and invasive. This data collection, when viewed as a whole, can amount to what Stay Safe Online call the ‘Internet of Me’  – a complete picture of your life, online, that could be used improperly or stolen by bad actors.

smart Home Hub

Technology vendors have a key role to play in ensuring that consumers feel safe by ensuring that security and transparency is built into products and that consumers can have complete control over what data is being collected. Data privacy should not be relegated to, or hidden, in the terms and conditions of a device, but instead be a headline feature.

In essence, whilst data privacy is certainly a challenge for both vendors and consumers in the age of Alexa, it also presents an opportunity for vendors who are willing to publically take responsibility for data privacy. Rather than an obstacle, data protection can instead be a major selling point for consumers concerned about the privacy of their online data.