Recently the issue of privacy has resurfaced in my musings. As I was reading some articles for my Expos class Privacy and Surveillance, I was reminded of our discussion about the joint AI venture between Microsoft and Amazon. When I first read the article, I was quite surprised, since Amazon has always seemed to have a “what you do, we can do better ourselves.” But, after some consideration, my surprise has started to turn into a bit of apprehension. After all, we are in an age where pretty much everything we do can be accessed through the Internet. Our first layer of personal security is the fact that people/companies on the Internet don’t and can’t know everything about us. The “walled garden” has actually, to a large extent, probably protected our security. It has always been in a company’s best interest to keep our data for themselves, often to target ads/services towards specific demographics. There hasn’t really been incentive for companies to pool or share user’s personal data, unless, of course, money is involved.
This joint venture and similar collaborations, however, necessitate the sharing of data. As it is, these AI assistants collect an incredible amount of information. It has been proven time and again that, even though these companies claim that their assistants only listen when called, Alexa and Cortana are always listening. It’s bad enough that Amazon has been listening in on family conversations in the living around. It’s bad enough that Microsoft has been tracking everything we do on our computers, from work to play. Now, however, Amazon and Microsoft have access to the other’s data pool. Alexa knows everything about a user that once only Cortana knew – and vice versa. Both companies have a lot fuller of a picture about who are using their devices. From a purely AI perspective, this all sounds great. Responses will be more accurate and tailored towards individuals. But, what is the cost to privacy.
It has been said that in the digital era, there is no such thing as privacy. In a world moving towards data collection, mining, etc. — big data — I am increasingly inclined to agree. But, it isn’t just the corporations themselves that are a concern. Piles of personal data are quite attractive to the hoards of black hat hackers out there. I’d be interested to see a) what else these companies are doing with user’s data and b) what exactly they’re doing on the security front.