Digital Assistants

Alexa, Siri and Co. are listening - new ITA study in cooperation with the Vienna Chamber of Labour

Digital assistants like Amazons Alexa or Google Assitant are becoming more and more popular in Austrian households. But they are a massive invasion of our privacy. What consequences does this have for consumers?

Digital assistants can be integrated into so-called "smart loudspeakers". More and more people are taking advantage of this offer. The triumph of Alexa, Siri and Co. seems safe for the future. However, these systems not only have access to household communication, but also to our data, and can thus record our lifestyle habits.

The Institute for Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) in cooperation with the Chamber of Labour (AK) has carried out a study on this subject, which was presented on 16 July by Daniela Zimmer (AK) and the technology researcher Jaro Krieger-Lamina (ITA): "Digital assistants are now not only available in the home or on the mobile phone, cars and hotel rooms are also equipped with them. We have to be aware that we are giving large companies control over our interaction with the digital world and are thus approaching complete surveillance," Krieger-Lamina emphasizes.

Advertising and surveillance in the background

Just like search engines, the systems could be used for targeted advertising and manipulation of consumers. They learn about our habits and suggest products that serve the commercial interests of the manufacturers. Every assistant could suggest different mail order companies, transport companies or holidays.

Daniela Zimmer points out the "humanization" of the devices: "It is no coincidence that Alexa, Cortana or Siri are female names and use female voices. The software can even answer with humor. This is supposed to create the illusion of a friendly presence and conceal surveillance aspects. Once set up in the home, smart speakers are always ready to listen."

More about this topic

In a nutshell: ITA-Dossier "Der Spion zu Hause" – (PDF, 2 pages)
ITA study on behalf of the AK (German only)
ITA Project Page: Digital Assistants

31.07.2019
By: Denise Riedlinger

Even if there are differences between the providers, there is currently no really data protection-friendly smart speaker. (Photo: Gabort71/iStockphoto)