US citizens just lost yet another piece of its right to privacy, once again in favor of the big corporations.
The State Senate aimed at banning the manufacturers of voice-activated technology such as smart speakers from remotely and covertly operating these devices with the objective of recording their customers.
The bill that was passed for this purpose, called the ‘Keep Internet Devices Safe Act’, empowered users with the possibility to directly file a complaint with the Illinois Attorney General’s office, leading to penalties of up to $50,000 in case of privacy infringements.
Big Tech’s reaction came quite immediately as the trade associations, representing the interests of companies such as Google and Amazon (the makers of Google Home and Alexa respectively), where able to outmaneuver the Senate by claiming that the parameters established in the bill where too broad: not having a clear the definition of ‘digital device’ could lead to interpretation hence to disputes and ‘frivolous class action litigation’. As a result, the bill had to be scaled back.
In its new diluted version, the bill exclusively authorizes the Illinois Attorney General’s office to enforce the Act, de facto subtracting from the common citizens the power to personally bring forward a case against the tech giants when these last are caught recording them in their homes.
Last week's report revealed Amazon’s efforts in listening to thousands of commands spoken to the digital ears of the ‘Echo speaker’ line, with the intention of improving the capabilities of Alexa digital assistant.
This happened even if the user of the smart speaker had specifically opted out of having their data used by the device. The workers involved in the listening of these recordings stated to have heard the words searched for online as well as private conversations, situations of domestic violence or potential crimes.
As technology inevitably progresses, the border between individuals and society becomes thinner. Until privacy infringements will become a priority for the Attorney General, it’s unlikely that Illinois State Senate’s bill will be able to provide better protection for the final users.