Is Opting In a Stopgap for Sharing More User Data?

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Data Privacy
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Devices are beginning to learn more about us by passively "listening" to our activities to offer personalized, automatic services. But as privacy advocates voice concerns about these new capabilities, the ability to opt in becomes even more crucial as a product feature.

Devices are beginning to learn more about us by passively "listening" to our activities to offer personalized, automatic services. But as privacy advocates voice concerns about these new capabilities, the ability to opt in becomes even more crucial as a product feature.Facebook was among the latest companies to introduce a passive listening feature. Last month the data behemoth unveiled an app feature that will listen to users' background actitivies to pick up song titles, TV shows and movies and insert that info into a status update.

I can always tell when Facebook has introduced a new consumer-facing feature based on the articles and posts that pop up on my Newsfeed protesting the change.

Perhaps in anticipation of the backlash, Facebook stressed that the audio recognition service was optional in the headline of a blog post announcing the new feature. It also included an FAQ section to address questions about the app's ability to record and store conversations (Facebook says it can't) and other concerns.

Microsoft's Xbox One ignited similar concerns last year when it introduced a console feature that continually listens for voice commands, even when the Xbox is turned off. The company has since released statements outlining the ability to turn off the "instant on" speech recognition feature and other privacy settings.

Google also lets users turn off the always listening feature on its Moto X handset , which listens for voice commands and applies those commands to Google Now, a service that automatically reminds you of appointments and other tasks.

Consumers should be skeptical of a company's commitment to honoring its users' preferences. Yahoo, for example, was a pioneer in implementing the Do Not Track user request for browsers, but it decided in May that it would no longer honor those requests.

But as audio recognition and other technology become common features, it is possible that more people will use these services. Google for instance, is rumored to be extending the Moto X's always-listening functionality to other Android devices.

Avoiding the so-called "creepiness factor" and privacy backlash remain valid concerns for companies, but for better or worse, we are heading towards a future that includes more personalization options and integrated data among devices.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION