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Can We Live With Eavesdropping?

The first of potentially many news stories related to ambient voice devices’ ability to listen in is unfolding now with an Echo whodunnit. There’s also a fear that we’ll uncover a Snowden-esque type leak showing how the US or another government is listening in to our homes through the Echo or Google Home.

For the most part, ambient devices only listen locally for their wake word. However, during this time, they are running a buffer that allows them to dump audio being recorded locally to the cloud, along with the trigger word. If you go to google.com/history/audio you can hear “OK Google” on your searches if you’ve triggered them.

The real question is at what price would we be OK to have all of the audio streamed to the cloud all of the time? If Amazon gave away the Echo but we then entrusted it with acoustic data about us, what additional benefit would we need to derive?

It seems many are already OK with their homes being recorded through Nestcam (which is also streaming audio). However, if there was additional data that we could derive on ourselves, would that make it OK? If an AI could chime in with recommendations on our habits, would we willing to forego potential privacy violations. If we could see how Amazon or Google was administering our data or where it was stored and who had access to it internally, would that make it OK?

These are questions we are going to need to ask ourselves if we want, as consumers, to get the best deal for the data we give up.

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