Privacy vs convenience: a ‘smart’ trade-off?

We live in the era of convenience – smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) make consumers’ lives so much easier and more convenient. But at what cost?

The most recent revelation from WikiLeaks, better known as Vault 7, shines the light on the potential price we pay for convenience: privacy.

Leaked in early March this year, the Vault 7 documents contain some serious allegations about hacking programs run by US intelligence agencies, including the CIA, targeting smart devices such as iPhones, Android and smart TVs.

The real-life version of a Hollywood spy movie script, the documents reveal a specialised branch of the CIA dedicated to developing malware to infest, control and extract data from products running on iOS.

According the WikiLeaks, a significant amount of the agency’s hacking tools have also landed in the hands of criminal groups, leading to further concerns.

The source of the leak has expressed to WikiLeaks that the documents should be released to ignite public debate about privacy and cyber-security.

WikiLeaks states, “The source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”

Raising further questions about digital privacy is another recent event, where an artificial intelligence (AI) device will ‘testify’ in a murder trial. At the beginning of March, Amazon handed over data from its personal assistant device, Echo, to an Arkansas court. Data captured on the defendant’s Echo could provide significant information to aid the investigation, according to police.
Echo’s AI assistant not only responds to voice directives, but also records audio.

Initially, Amazon argued against the release of data, citing the First Amendment, however after the defendant consented to the disclosure, Amazon gave in.

It’s a matter of trust

Consumer trust has become one of the most important issues of the digital era; in fact it has become a business differentiator. The minute it is breached, it is near impossible for brands to gain trust back.

And the Echo isn’t the only device that can capture audio data. Smart TVs are also capable of recording potentially sensitive information.

Samsung is a great example of a brand that wants to ensure transparency with their customers, despite receiving criticism for openly admitting that their devices record private data.

Their Smart TV privacy policy states: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

Most consumers now realise that convenience comes at a cost. Inevitably, there has been and will continue to be an attitudinal shift in consumers around what they are comfortable sacrificing in the name of efficiency and convenience.

Brands, however, are responsible for educating consumers on the full extent of ‘costs’ and ensuring that transparency becomes, and remains, priority in the data-driven, ‘smart-convenience’ era.

Watch the Darker side of Data video, by AdAge discussing what the future of privacy might look like: