YOU get a Google Home and YOU get a Google Home and...Wait.
Are you getting something for free or is Google?
We heard this week that Spotify is giving us all a Google home for free. Those of us paying for Spotify Premium, that is.
We have questions. And we think you might too.
Google Home is a smart device, a “smart assistant” to be precise. Smart devices connect to the Internet, gather data, and interact with you.
They also interact with entities that are not you.
With Google Home, much like Amazon’s Echo, you can talk to it and it will talk back. It will select your music-- ergo the Spotify partnership-- but it can also do a lot of other things that involve you and your data: tell you your schedule, call your mom, or remind you to walk your dog. Google Home can connect to the other smart devices you have, collect data about when you get home and leave, what other devices are in your home, whom you speak to and when. And it communicates all of this back to Google.
Google Home can constantly observe us under our own roofs. Essentially, your free Spotify gift is a free surveillance device for the people who haven’t bought one yet.
This is not a new conversation. We’ve encountered the same issues about privacy before with signing up for Facebook or searching Google using a desktop. The difference now is that we’ve invited a little device in to observe us 24/7.
When it comes to questions about personal data collection, often we hear, “Why should I care? I have nothing to hide.”
Whether or not you have something to hide is besides the point. At the crux of this is a question of control. And so often we don’t have control over our data and what it’s used for. Especially not when private companies are the gatekeepers.
Indiscriminate data collection can come with unanticipated problems we might not always figure out ahead of time. For example, what you post on social media could be analyzed to assess risk and affect your car insurance premiums. It can also be used to figure out how you behave. As Shoshana Zuboff outlines in her new book, Surveillance Capitalism, what you engage with online can be used to predict, and importantly, modify your behaviour. Detailed portraits of a user can be painted with simply what you’ve asked Google to find for you. This is an advertiser’s dream-- to show you what you might want exactly when you might want it so you’re much more likely to give them money that ever before. Sounds like a fantastic idea.
In any event, even if you’re still okay with companies having free rein of your data, does that necessarily mean that the friends and family who visit you also consent to their information being sucked up like a vacuum? What about kids in your space?
Sometimes data collection can be helpful. If it’s clear what information is gathered, for how long, and what it’s being used for. If you’ve binge-watched the whole new season of Sabrina, for example, and you can find out what else you might like, sure! But we really need to be talking more about who can gather, have access to, own, and store this obscene amount of personal information about us.
Join RUDE in more exciting conversations about who might be listening in to what you say to your trusty (or “un-trusty”) Google Home. Tune in for our two-part special on surveillance, tech, and digital rights, launching next month as a collaboration between RUDE the Podcast and the Digital Justice Lab.