The Privacy Problem with Digital Assistants

For the last century, we’ve imagined a future where we’re surrounded by robotic butlers that are classy, smart, and discreet. We wouldn’t think twice of asking an embarrassing question of a robo-assistant, or entrusting him/her/it with sensitive information, because the robot’s directive would be to serve only its owner. Already, there are millions of proto-Jarvises running around in pockets, in the form of digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and (soon) Google’s search assistant. These virtual helpers use artificial intelligence to parse what users say or type, and return useful information. More recent updates to Siri and Google have taught the assistants to guess at what users want to know before they’re asked, chiming in with notifications about a traffic jam at the appropriate time. But they…

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