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Learning to Live with Privacy-invasive Technology: The Case of Always-Listening Platforms and Apps
Tuesday, April 4th at 5:30 PST
Exploring the topic
Speech recognition technology and other “always-listening” digital platforms and applications are becoming ubiquitous – smart speakers, such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home, can be found in many people’s homes, and voice assistants, such as Alexa and Siri, have become a popular way of interacting with mobile devices and the Internet of Things. As an emergent field of technology, many uses are still being imagined and trialed by developers and so there’s still a lot to determine about how this technology will become embedded in social life. Will conversational gaming apps help democratize language learning for young students who lack a reading buddy at home? Do smart speakers make information more accessible to some users with disabilities by ‘unlocking the power of voice’ to conduct a web search?
Many of the marketing promises made about this field of technology suggest that it helps resolve a digital divide for a marginalized segment of users: yet as we hurry to expand its applications in pursuit of such goals, there is much to consider about how the technology can introduce or intensify other social harms. Privacy and surveillance concerns are paramount upon consideration of the complex digital ecosystem in place that is designed to profit from the collection, sharing, analysis, and selling of data, which now increasingly focuses on speech, voice, and other sounds. As new users of the technology, how do we evaluate such issues? The talk will explore some of the major gaps in digital literacy that are in place which make it very easy to focus on the benefits of always-listening technology without adequate consideration of its risks and potential abuses. In doing so, the talk will argue that there is a need to restructure how such privacy-invasive technology is being domesticated into our lives.
Stephen is a Research Associate at the Infoscape Lab at Toronto Metropolitan University and a SSHRC-funded PhD candidate in Communication and Culture at York University in Toronto, Canada. His master’s research on privacy and surveillance issues of smart speaker technology was awarded the 2019 Beaverbrook Prize by the Canadian Communication Association. Working at the intersection of media, sound, and surveillance studies, his research has published in Surveillance & Society, Convergence, the Journal of Sonic Studies, and the Canadian Journal of Communication.
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