Thinking Twice About Smart Devices


Throughout all of human history we have been confident that statements and questions posed in empty rooms have remained secret.

That our internalised reading remained in our heads and, short of someone reading over our shoulder, no one would ever know what we’re reading.

Until more recently, if we destroyed a document, photo, or personal note, we could rest assured that only those who saw it before its destruction would ever know of its existence. And we definitely wouldn’t be getting it back.

Until now that is.

According to much of the press (here, here and here for example), the rapid acceptance of smartphones, smart assistants and AI has posed the developed world with a choice: privacy or convenience. However, it’s not an either/or scenario. Rather, if we are to let this technology into our home, we must ensure we understand fully the security implications and resist complacency. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

And this is easier said than done. We have let smartphones and smart assistants into our lives and with every day that passes, have grown increasingly comfortable with them. “Okay Google”, “Hey Cortana”, “Alexa” and “Hey Siri” – are phrases we will find ourselves using more and more. Words that our smart devices are unrelentingly listening for to help us and serve us (and they certainly are helpful). Without them our devices don’t action or store what we are saying, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.

And while that might not be an issue with companies such as Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple that we trust, what about other companies that we aren’t so familiar with? Will we think twice before letting their smart devices into our homes?

And, do we really care? Should we care?

These days catching a flight can be as simple as glancing at your phone; your departure time, gate number and current delay status already there waiting for you – the information in your email being presented to you in a timely manner. Genuinely smart, helpful stuff. All generated by an algorithm reading YOUR email.

So should we be giving up helpful acts like that to protect our privacy? Should we be dwelling on fear and handicapping ourselves as a result?

No. Because ultimately, technology is here to help us.

Technology can be scary – especially as we approach a Minority Report-esque future – but you have to embrace it. It is part of our lives and most of us would rather ensure we catch our flight than worry about our email, or run the risk of having images and documents saved in the cloud as opposed to losing them altogether.

So what does this mean for communicators? In a world that prioritises convenience over security, it is our responsibility to ensure that we, and the brands we represent, educate consumers about the impact of smart technology in the home. With smart consumers, the smart-home market can truly flourish.