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Digital Assistants Might Share More Than You Think

Jackie here. Do you share secrets with Siri, Alexa, or another digital assistant? A convenient way to get answers to embarrassing medical questions, directions to favorite hotspots, and the latest news and traffic, digital assistants can provide the information you need on the go. Unfortunately, this convenience may come with a price to your privacy. Use them, or don’t, but make sure you know what information you’re sharing so you can make an informed decision.

What Information Do You Share With Digital Assistants?

Every time you push that button and speak a request, you’re sharing valuable information. Your voice request is recorded, paired with your device ID, and stored. Keeping a voice history allows your device to learn your vocal idiosyncrasies so it can better understand your voice requests in the future. However, this information also has the potential to be stolen by hackers or obtained by law enforcement with a subpoena.

Location data is another tidbit of information gathered every time you press that button. Your device knows where you are, where you’ve been, and often where you’re going. And of course, you’re also sharing the actual query that you’re asking. Put this all together, often several times a day, and you’re sharing a great deal of valuable information about your lifestyle, preferences, and schedule.

The Future of Digital Assistants

Plans for future digital assistants are even more concerning to some privacy experts. One new idea in the pipeline is a digital assistant that scans your conversations and activities, looking for opportunities to provide help. This digital assistant would wait quietly in the background of all your activities for a chance to make a suggestion or help you.

If you receive a photo of a cute baby, the assistant may offer suggested replies like “Awww” or, “Cute”, and allow you to reply in just one click. It may also scan conversations to suggest restaurants, movie show times, etc. when you’re discussing a night out. These features sound convenient, but they would require giving this digital assistant complete, unfettered access to all of your activities on a device. Is that something you’re willing to do?

Digital assistants are another example of the trade-off between privacy and convenience. The price of convenience is often a bit of privacy and increasing your privacy may require losing a little convenience. Staying informed is one of the best ways to make smart decisions regarding these trade-offs.

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