The Guardian: ‘Tis the season for unfettered government access to your data by Allie Bohm, Bennett Cyphers and Edward George”
Giving a voice-activated device to someone for Christmas? Think again
It’s your holiday party. You’re playing music throughout your house with your voice-activated speakers. The speakers, while playing the music, are listening to you and your guests, waiting for a “wake” word. A few days later, there is a knock on your door. It’s the police. They have questions about a conversation you had with one of your guests, who has gone missing, and would like access to your speakers’ data. Will you let them?
Most would answer “no”, but the police do not have to stop there. Under the supreme court’s third-party doctrine, police are not required to obtain a warrant before requesting access to your voice-activated speaker’s data stored on company servers – that means even if you refuse the police’s request, the company that made your voice-activated speakers may nonetheless turn over any of the recordings it has of your conversations – and it may not even tell you about it, raising serious privacy and constitutional concerns.
This holiday season, an estimated 12m voice-activated speakers will be sold worldwide, bringing the total sales during 2017 to 24m. There is little doubt that we have entered an always-on, always-listening world. Always-on devices enable a litany of new possibilities – hands-free control for people with physical disabilities; voice dictation to improve efficiency in healthcare – but they also bring powerful government surveillance tools into our most private spaces.