The artificial intelligence voice assistant(s) widely used by American technology giants in smart speakers, involving “eavesdropping”, is triggering investigations by European and American regulatory authorities.
On August 6, according to foreign media reports, US and European regulators and legislatures are investigating Google, Apple and Amazon. The regulators are trying to establish whether the three companies are violating user privacy. They even hired a commissioner to listen to instructions issued by users when using electronic assistants.
According to the US Fortune magazine, Apple and Google have recently suspended the manual audit recording project. Earlier, the German data protection agency launched an investigation into Apple and Google. Amazon also revised the regulations on Friday, allowing users to turn off the ability to manually listen to recordings. In Europe, regulators in Ireland and the UK are also investigating whether these technology giants violate European privacy laws and regulations.
A spokesperson for the UK Information Management Committee said, “We have learned about privacy issues related to voice assistants and are working on it.” The UK Information Management Committee is the UK’s agency responsible for data security protection. In order to identify all the facts and any risks that may affect the British population, the issue will be discussed with European data protection agencies.
According to a Bloomberg report in April this year, Amazon has a team of thousands of people around the world, listening to all the instructions from the user to the voice assistant Alexa. This is for the purpose of improving the software. In addition to listening to the recordings, the team also analyzed them. However, Bloomberg reports that the recordings of some employees involve the user’s personal details, such as the user’s name and address.
After the report was published, Amazon and people familiar with the project said that only a small portion of the recordings would be heard manually. In addition to Amazon’s Alexa, Bloomberg also said that Apple’s Siri team and the Google assistant team have taken a similar approach to manual listening.
The move by technology companies has sparked public concern. Users who are sensitive to personal privacy are concerned that this may infringe on their rights, especially if users accidentally turn on the device or are unknowingly recorded.
The Irish regulator, which oversees Apple and Google’s European operations, said it is in talks with the two companies to get further information about voice assistants.
A spokesperson for the Irish regulator said: “We will make an assessment and publicly conclude. We have noticed that Apple and Google have stopped project-based listening to users. Google stopped the project in mid-July. Apple on the other hand, stopped recently.”
In Europe, data protection violations already have severe fines. Thanks to the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), these powers have been strengthened. Regulators can impose a fine of up to 4% of the company’s annual income.
In the United States, the recording of digital assistants has also attracted the attention of legislators.
In late July, US Congressman Seth Moulton filed a law called Automatically Monitored Improper Act. The bill will grant the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority. When a digital assistant or a smart doorbell violate the relevant monitoring regulations, the FTC will impose a fine of $40,000 for each violation.