This week Las Vegas once again saw the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), accompanied by a range of flashy new gadgets. Most significant among the mix; privacy.
Technology front runners such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google took the main stage in unveiling data privacy changes in their products, as well as headlining discussions surrounding the importance of consumer privacy. However, through each reveal, attendees noticed gaps and missteps in these companies’ attempts at privacy.
Facebook: A New Leader in Data Privacy?
This year, Facebook attempted to portray itself as a changed company in the eyes of privacy. Complete with comfortable seating and flowers, Facebook’s CES booth revealed a company dedicated to customer privacy, pushing the idea that Facebook does not sell customer data.
Originally created in 2014, Facebook relaunched a new-and-improved “Privacy Checkup”, complete with easy to manage data-sharing settings. Facebook took the opportunity at this year’s CES to display added features such as the ability to turn off facial recognition, managing who can see a user account or posts, and the ability to remove/add preferences based on personal browsing history.
While these changes to privacy settings are a step in the right direction towards protecting user data, attendees could not help but notice the side-stepping of significant data privacy initiatives of which Facebook is ignoring. Most notably, the lack of user control on how advertisers use personal information.
Ring’s New Control Center: Fix or Flop?
Ring has been a hot commodity in household security since its purchase by Amazon in 2018. However, recently, the company has come under fire for its law enforcement partnerships.
In light of mounting hacking concerns, the home security company utilized CES to announce a new dashboard for both Apple and Android users labeled “the control center”. This center provides the user with the opportunity to manage connected Ring devices, third-party devices, as well as providing the user with options for law enforcement to request access to Ring videos.
Ring has missed initial requests of its customers who are asking for additions such as suspicious activity detection or notifying for new account logins. Ring has continued to add software that in turn places onus onto users to protect themselves. Customers are viewing this so-called privacy update as nothing more than a “cosmetic redesign”. The device continues to provide no significant hacker-protection, and therefore no notable privacy protection for its customers.
Google Assistant: New Front-Runner in Privacy Adjustments
Each year Google is celebrated for taking full advantage of CES to indulge its visitors into the technology of the company. This year, Google’s efforts focused on Google Assistant.
After last year’s confirmation that third-party workers were monitoring Google Assistant, Google’s efforts to combat data privacy has been at the forefront of this year’s CES panel. On January 7, 2020, Google announced new features to its Assistant, reassuring its dedication to privacy protection. Users are now able to ask their assistant questions such as:
- “Are you saving my audio data?”
- “Hey google, delete everything I said to you this week”
- “Hey Google, that wasn’t for you”
- “How are you keeping my information private?”
Of these new user commands, the most significant is “are you saving my audio data?” This command allows users to determine whether or not their Assistant opted into allowing Google access.
However, some Google Assistant users are accusing Google of placing onus onto the user, instead of creating a product that protects its user. Similar to the Ring controversy, there is frustration that Google is missing the mark for understanding the privacy demands of its users. All that being said, Google is one of few companies taking the step in the right direction to most significantly impact how user information is stored.
It is clear that this year’s CES, while still delivering new and exciting ‘gadgets of the future’, has experienced a shift towards privacy as the most significant technological topic point. While that was made clear by most front-leading tech companies, many continue to be missing the mark in understanding the privacy their users want.
Facebook, Ring and Google each brought forward privacy changes of topical interest while continuing to exude an ignorant role of misunderstanding what it means to keep their user’s information private. Thus the question we must ask ourselves as consumers of these products continues to be; are these minimal changes enough for us to continue flushing our information into?