October 13, 2017

Should You Trust Your Digital Assistant?

by Celia Kilgard-Schnupp, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP

Chances are you own and use a digital assistant on a regular basis or know someone that does. Or, a digital assistant is working for you and you don’t even know it. Have you had your phone tell you without command how long it will take to drive to work? How about where you last parked?

Digital assistants are present in many aspects of our professional and personal lives. From Siri, Alexa, Bixby or Google assistant, we can now quickly ask about the weather, traffic, directions and recipes, set timers, play music, order groceries and much more. But how trusting should we be with the information we provide to the digital assistants? Should we use digital assistants for work or client sensitive information?

There have been dozens of articles about digital assistants listening to your conversations and reading your texts and emails. However, most people have already been monitored by Google, Facebook, et al. for years. Every search on your computer, everything you purchase online, how long you read an article or look at an email and even what emails you choose to open, has been tracked. So it should come as no surprise that a digital assistant is tracking data on its user. Unless you are an “incognito window only” searcher, all of your online activity has been tracked for years.

Privacy laws and policies have not been implemented as fast as the technology is changing, so it’s up to users to educate themselves if they have specific privacy concerns. For example, all of your requests to Alexa are stored, even by sound byte. So anyone with shared access to your account will be able to view each and every use of your digital assistant and you can’t turn this feature off. As lawyers, we may realize that data on the digital assistant may be relevant in a lawsuit and can request access to this material. Divorce lawyers – what if a paramour’s voice is captured on Alexa proving infidelity?

There are many advantages to utilizing a digital assistant that could outweigh the privacy concerns. It is up to each user to weigh their personal or ethical privacy concerns over the convenience and use of digital assistants. If companies are implementing, encouraging or unaware of the company-wide use of digital assistants, they should also make sure that they have adequate policies in place for their employees to protect disclosure of proprietary information. Every company should also have a data breach plan in place in advance of any attack. Lawyers can assist with drafting workplace policies to help support your company’s use of technology.

There will be many more privacy updates in the future and digital assistants will continue to get smarter with more data, and in turn, become more efficient for you. This should either impress or terrify you.