Personal Assistants: Beyond Consent
Yesterday I took the time to explain the workings of Alexia to a child, as objectively as I could. He had encountered her in his friend’s houses and concluded that she was ‘creepy’. To him his home should be a private place for and he didn’t like the idea of being listened to without his knowledge. I have no doubt but that my own suspicions of Alexia crept into my description. I’m sure I could have convinced him that it wasn’t ‘creepy’. However this vulnerability to influence calls into question his ability to submit to being listened to by devises he finds ‘creepy’.
Tech companies are working their way though issues of parental consent. However, Alexia doesn’t only listen to the authorising parent’s children. She listens to anyone who comes within earshot of her. She records children visiting on playdates and trying to get her to say something silly, or rude. For any unsuspecting teenager, especially those named ‘Alex’ or ’Alexia’, they may find themselves sharing their deepest feelings with their friends only to discover a stranger was silently documenting all.
The trail of digital data that even the most privacy conscious of us create on a daily basis leaves signposts everywhere to allow our ‘anonymously’ stored data to be matched with us. Most of us just aren’t interesting enough for anyone to undertake the process of de-anonymizing our data. Most of us for instance, are not in the public eye, the subject of corporate espionage or significant actors in the world of diplomacy. However, parents can’t be sure that their children or teenagers won’t be — or that their friends or relations will never be of interest either.
The lifespan of digital data combined with the capacity of the average child and teenager to say dumb things has the potential to create a ‘data-disadvantaged’ generation. Tony Blair once said of social media that had it existed when he was younger he would never have become Prime Minister. Personal assistants are reaching beyond the realm of social media and the potential scope of individual or parental consent. Alexia doesn’t care about the age of a child, which child is being recorded or what is being said. She won’t care if, as grown adults, the teenage conversations she transcribes are somehow used against them. Given the high aspirations of most parents for their children, it is an anomaly that personal assistants are on the rise, a technology that assumes that transcripts of children or teenagers in their own home will never really matter to anyone.