Surveillance systems around the world are getting sophisticated. We might think we are safe in our home, but with the massive influx of IoT and voice-controlled devices, a new threat to privacy has emerged. It has evolved at a rapid rate and is called voice recognition. Anyone using the latest voice-activated technology ought to know about it. Here, we discuss voice recognition and how it can affect our lives to help you understand the dangers it poses to your security.
Who’s Listening on You? The Dangers of Voice Recognition
What is Voice Recognition Technology?
The voice-activated technology is a part of a larger group called Biometric technologies. This group of technologies targets different aspects of human signatures. Some of the better-known aspects of this domain as – fingerprints, iris scans, and voice patterns etc. These technologies are designed to identify individuals on the basis of unique markers or pointers that are distinct and set them apart from each other.
Biometric technologies have been used for a long time. Earlier, their use was restricted to military and law enforcement. However, the proliferation of high-end software and tech has led other domains to use these as well. If you are truly vigilant and notice around yourself, you will find them in many areas of your life – from shopping areas to banks.
What Is Unique About Biometric Technologies?
Biometric technologies are unique from others in the sense that their markers cannot be changed. You cannot change the distinct characteristics of your iris or your fingerprints. Even things like voice, which are somewhat changeable, are not so easily altered. Further, voice recognition can be used to identify people very easily.
This technology, in combination with other factors like CCTV footage and voice-calling services, can be used to accurately identify individuals. The databases of such information can be held privately and not every database owner will follow ethical privacy standards.
How Do Voice-Recognition Technologies Put Your Privacy at Risk?
Generally speaking, voice-recognition technologies can have a fairly innocuous use. While it might mean nothing serious if your phone recognizes your voice, but if a hacker breaks into the voice database, they can get information that can be used to harm you. Let’s see how.
Just as a phone can recognize the voice of its owner, it can also be used to recognize those of others. The main factor here is the location where the voice recognition and speech pattern identification record is being stored. Mostly, if the storage is locally-oriented, then it does not pose any amount of risk for any users.
But if the data is being stored in a central hub, it is a very serious concern. Even if we assume that the company that stores this data is completely ethical and doesn’t intend to use your data for their own reasons, it can still be hacked.
All apps that have speech features and voice recognition can potentially be used for data mining. When surveillance organizations tap into them, they become the primary sources of massive information gathering. Further, if the audio and vocal samples are reinforced with textual representations, then they can give a complete picture to such agencies.
In terms of privacy, voice recognition can be a real danger as it can identify people anywhere. And once their identity is revealed and entered into the system, all their online actions are a few clicks away.
Further, if voice samples can be obtained from the majority of the population, real-time surveillance is a rather easy task.
Also, we must remember that such technologies are seldom deployed by themselves. Usually, they are used in tandem with various other identification devices and software such as geo-location and phone-based live tracking. All these things combined with using the cumulative resources of individuals themselves means seamless tracking is a real possibility. So an entire populace could be tracked at all hours without much effort at all.
Should We Be Worried?
Generally speaking, speech recognition and other such biometrics are one of the best ways of tracking individuals. The voice pattern recognition will be able to detect individuals even after their best efforts to remain private and anonymous. And the deployment of such technologies is no longer restricted to Hollywood flicks on international espionage. Even before Snowden, the ECHELON program was in effect and designed to spy on millions of people.
While these factors are certainly worrisome, there is another ambit of issues to be addressed. The audio data gathered by such means can be used in a number of ways. It can reveal sensitive information about the person’s personal attributes or lifestyle choices. The data can also be used for more nefarious purposes and in some cases, stolen data can put the lives of millions of people at risk.
These are only a few of the many reasons why biometrics and all related data needs to be strictly regulated. However, at present, there aren’t enough regulations in the US on this front.
What Legal Protection is Available at Present?
Privacy has been a major issue for the US and EU legal systems for some time now. However, speech recognition still remains in a legal grey area, specifically because of the lack of a trail. Since there is a little concrete record for its collection, storage, and other factors, such issues mostly fall through the cracks.
How Can These Issues Be Addressed?
At present, only a handful of US states have recognized the threat to privacy posed by these technologies. Consequently, they have established legal frameworks for their regulation and ethical use. Even in the EU, which has quite robust security and privacy laws, biometrics have not garnered the required attention. However, things might change pretty soon.
The GDPR or General Data Protection Regulation has introduced biometrics as a unique category of personal data. This is a step forward in the right direction and with the implementation of the GDPR, things are moving forward. However, there is still much ground to be covered between acceptance, enactment, enforcement, and compliance. We can only hope that the US will soon follow suit and give its citizens the privacy rights they deserve by way of the constitution.