Hey Siri: The virtual assistant is listening to kids and using data

In many busy households around the world, it’s not uncommon for children to shout directives at Apple Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. They can create a game by asking the voice-activated personal assistant (VAPA) what time it is or asking for a popular song. While this may seem like a mundane part of family life, there is so much more to it. VAPAs continuously listen to, record, and process audio developments in a process known as “eavesdropping,” a compound word for eavesdropping and data recording. This raises significant concerns regarding privacy and surveillance issues, as well as discrimination, as the audio tracks in people’s lives are captured by data algorithms. and scrutinized carefully.

These concerns increased as we applied them to children. Their data accumulates over the generations in ways that go beyond what has ever been collected about their parents with far-reaching consequences that we are not even beginning to understand.

Always listen

VAPA adoption is happening at an astounding rate as it expands to include mobile phones, smart speakers, and a growing number of products connected to the Internet. These include digital toys for kids, home security systems that listen for intruders, and smart doorbells that can pick up sidewalk conversations.

There are pressing issues stemming from the collection, storage and analysis of audio data relating to parents, youth and children. Alarms have been raised in the past – in 2014, privacy advocates raised concerns about the extent of Amazon Echo listening, what data is being collected, and how it will be used by Amazon’s recommendation engines.

And yet, despite these concerns, VAPA and other wiretapping systems have spread exponentially. Recent market research predicts that by 2024, the number of voice-activated devices will explode to over 8.4 billion.

Recording is more than just speech

There’s more to it than just uttered sentences, as VAPA and other eavesdropping systems eavesdrop on personal characteristics of voices that inadvertently reveal biometric and behavioral attributes such as age, sex, health, intoxication and personality.

Information about the acoustic environment (such as a noisy apartment) or specific acoustic events (such as broken glass) can also be gathered through “auditory scene analysis” to make judgments about what is happening in that environment.

Sabotage systems have had a recent track record of cooperating with law enforcement agencies and being subpoenaed for data in criminal investigations. This raises concerns about other forms of surveillance and profiling of children and families.

For example, smart speaker data can be used to create profiles such as “noisy household”, “disciplined parenting style” or “difficult youth”. This, in the future, could be used by governments to identify welfare dependents or families in crisis with potentially dire consequences.

There are also new eavesdropping systems introduced as a solution to keep children safe called “aggression detectors”. These technologies include microphone systems loaded with machine learning software, which explicitly claim they can help predict incidents of violence by listening for signs of increased volume and emotion in voice as well as other sounds such as breaking glass.

School supervision

Violence detectors are advertised in school safety magazines and at law enforcement conferences. They have been deployed in public spaces, hospitals and high schools under the guise of being able to prevent and detect mass shootings and other instances of deadly violence.

But there are serious problems surrounding the efficiency and reliability of these systems. One brand of detectors repeatedly misinterpreted children’s audible cues including coughing, screaming, and cheering as signs of aggression. This raises questions about who is being protected and who will be made less secure by its design.

Some children and young people will be disproportionately harmed by this form of confidential listening, and the interests of all families will not be uniformly protected or served. A repeated criticism of voice-activated technology is that it reproduces cultural and racial prejudice by enforcing vocal norms and misrepresenting diverse forms of speech. culture in relation to language, accent, dialect, and slang.

We can predict that the words and voices of racist children and young people will be disproportionately misinterpreted as sounding aggressive. This troubling prediction should come as no surprise since it follows colonial history and deeply entrenched white supremacy always warning of a “negative color line”. The Right Policy Vandalism is a rich monitoring and information site as the audio activities of children and families have become a valuable source of data to be collected, tracked, stored, analyzed and sold without the subject’s knowledge to thousands of third parties. These companies are for-profit, with little moral obligation to children and their data.

There is no legal requirement to delete this data, which will accumulate over the life of the children, potentially lasting forever. It is not clear how long and how far these digital footprints will follow children as they grow older, how ubiquitous this data will be, or how much this data will be cross-referenced with other data. . These questions have a serious impact on children’s lives both now and as they grow up.

There are countless threats posed by eavesdropping on privacy, surveillance, and discrimination. Personalized recommendations, such as information privacy education and digital skills training, will not be effective in addressing these issues and place too much of a burden on families in the future. developing the knowledge necessary to combat eavesdropping in public and private spaces.

We need to consider the development of a collective framework against the unique risks and realities of wiretapping. Perhaps the development of the Principles of Fair Listening – an auditory spin on “Fair Information Practice Principles” – will help to assess the platforms and processes that impact audio life. of children and families.

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