Google Home Brings Privacy, Security Questions Into Play

Google CEO Sundar Pichai credited Amazon for creating a lot of excitement and driving voice assistants into the home through Echo, an intelligent speaker, before confirming that the company will enter the market with its own device called Home later this year. Some experts question whether security and privacy safeguards have been put in place as Internet-connected home networks become commonplace.

At Google's annual developers' i/o conference Wednesday, Pichai encouraged developers to build out applications for the virtual agent, Google Assistant, which uses voice search and natural language processing to answer questions, complete purchases, and schedule events.   

"Every single conversation is different," Pichai said. "Every single context is different, and we are working hard to do this for billions of conversations, for billions of users around the world."

Similar to Amazon Echo, Google Home includes a virtual assistant, rebranded from Google Now, which users will interact with via voice. It can answer questions and have two-way conversations, as well as perform tasks like play music and interact with Google's smart thermostat, Nest.

Essentially, Google Home becomes a hub to run a home network of Internet-connected devices that collect million, if not billions, of pieces of data -- frequently.

Google collects a lot of data -- and knows things about consumers as they walk around with their mobile phone checking mail and searching for information -- but once you put your mobile phone down because you decided to watch TV or eat dinner, they lose track of you, Dimitri Sirota, founder and CEO of BigID, a cybersecurity firm, told Search Marketing Daily. "Now all of a sudden they caught up with you," he said.

Sirota said consumers need to become aware of security and privacy issues. Devices like Home and Echo are based on having access to the thermostat and other Internet-connected devices in the home.

When you put a Google Home or Amazon Echo in the home, the consumer creates a network around the lights and security systems within the home. The home network becomes as critical to protect as business networks.

Privacy also becomes a concern. Data is collected when people turn the heat down or lights off and on, or lock and unlock doors. "Now all of a sudden information about your voice print and what you like and when you go on vacation is being captured," Sirota said. "Google or Amazon will have knowledge about things you like."

Sirota seems confident that Google and Amazon will protect the data, but the question becomes whether the government will step in to create provisions to shield consumers, similar to the way Europe has set provisions and sanctions.

Today, home automation lacks regulation in the U.S. "People don't need to lose sleep over because there's plenty of benefits, but consumers need to keep their eyes wide open," Sirota said.

Google also built the virtual assistant into Allo, an independent chat bot mobile app for smartphones. It provides users with ways to share their emotions through a feature Google calls Whisper Shout, a sliding scale that increases or decreases the size of the text to express emotions, among other things.

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