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Is Your Smart Device Listening To You?

 

Smartphone Car CC0 Public Domain

CC0 Public Domain 

New research has found that many of us are worried our smart devices are listening to our conversations.  

Research from Unisys Corporation (NYSE: UIS) reveals that Australians hold strong privacy concerns about smart devices listening in on their conversations and organisations extracting personal information from their digital footprints, according to the 2019 Unisys Security Index™.

According to 41 percent of Australian smart device owners say they started receiving social media posts and ads about a topic they had recently talked about aloud, and almost two-thirds of this group say it concerns them.

Just over a quarter (28 percent) report that, while they were talking aloud, the virtual assistant in their smartphone or smart watch had asked them for more information or to repeat themselves even though they had not turned it on.

Similarly, 26 percent say that, while they were talking aloud, a voice-activated smart speaker had asked them for more information or to repeat themselves even though they had not turned it on. In both cases, at least half of people who experienced this say that it concerns them.

“We live in a hyper-connected world, where wearable devices, smart homes and digital assistants are commonplace in our personal and work lives. A growing component is voice-activated, command-driven digital assistants, embedded in smartphones, smart watches and purpose-built devices such as smart speakers.

However, in an environment where the top three security concerns for Australians relate to data theft, there is growing speculation that these wonderful Internet of Things devices will impact our privacy by monitoring our conversations and activity and using it in ways we did not intend,” says Ashwin Pal, director of security services, Unisys Asia Pacific.

Below is the percentage of Australian smart device owners who believe their devices are listening in.

I started receiving social media posts and ads about a topic I had recently talked about aloud:

  • Yes and it concerns me - 25%
  • Yes but it does not concern me - 16% 
  • Total - 41%

While I was talking aloud, the virtual assistant in my smartphone/watch asked for more info even though had not turned it on:

  • Yes and it concerns me - 14%
  • Yes but it does not concern me - 14%
  • Total - 28%

While I was talking aloud, a voice-activated smart speaker asked for more info even though I had not turned it on:

  • Yes and it concerns me - 13%
  • Yes but it does not concern me - 13%
  • Total - 26%

Support for Data Collection and Sharing Depends on Trust, Privacy and Security

The 2019 Unisys Security Index research also found Australians are selective about which situations they deem acceptable for an organisation to collect data from social media, online purchases, smartphones and wearable devices that create their digital footprint.

The strongest level of support (41 percent of Australians) is for the government collecting this information to identify who is in the vicinity of a disaster.

Yet less than half that number, only 19 percent, support the government monitoring individuals’ travel patterns to plan roads and public infrastructure.

More than a quarter (28 percent) support airports and airlines collecting information to efficiently guide a passenger’s journey through an airport, but only 10 percent support an employer doing the same to monitor an employee’s location during the workday.

More than a third of Australians (38 percent) say there is no acceptable situation to collect data from smartphones and wearable devices – the highest level of objection compared to the other three Asia Pacific countries surveyed: New Zealand (36 percent), the Philippines (20 percent) and Malaysia (14 percent).

Similarly, public support varies for organisations sharing an individual’s personal information with other organisations. The highest support is for police sharing information with other law enforcement agencies internationally (66 percent) or domestically (65 percent) to solve a crime.

More than half (57 percent) support doctors sharing a patient’s healthcare history with other healthcare providers for a complete view of an individual’s health.

And almost half (46 percent) support a government-administered proof-of-identity used to confirm a citizen’s identity to access commercial services such as a bank account.

However, only 16 percent support banks sharing a customer’s financial data with another financial service provider to offer a single point of contact for multiple services.

The most common reason given for not supporting this is concern is that consumers want control over who has access to their personal data.

“For all scenarios, the top two reasons given by Australians for not supporting their data being shared is that they want control over exactly who has access to their personal information or they don’t want that particular organisation to have access to their data.  This marks a concern around privacy, rather than one related to the ability of an organisation to secure the data. It appears driven by a combination of trust in the organisation involved, the purpose given for how the data will be used and the benefit to the individual.  To gain public support, organisations must show they meet all three criteria. Organisations must positively prove privacy of customer data before customers reward them with their trust and ultimately their business.”

The research reveals that organisations are not just at risk of losing data, some will also lose business. Nearly one-third (29 percent) of Australians say they have experienced a data breach in the last year.

The most common type of breaches were email hacking (7 percent), suspicious bank account behaviour (7 percent) and stolen credit card details (7 percent). Of = those who suffered a data breach, 15 percent said they stopped dealing with the relevant organisation altogether, 12 percent exposed the issued on social media, and 10 percent pursued legal action.

“Consumers hold the business or government agency responsible for not protecting their data, and many Australians are taking action designed to hurt the organisation they trusted to hold their information,” Mr Pal says.

Download the report at www.unisyssecurityindex.com.au