In the news last week: Google smart devices chief Rick Osterloh says he would disclose smart speakers before guests enter his home. Speaking to the BBC, he was challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests that smart devices – such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display – are in use before they enter the building. The answer, he concluded, is yes.
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Scene: At some not too distant point in the future, in a galaxy not too far far away. [Doorbell rings in the Google family ‘smart home’. A worried flurry of activity.]
G1 – Honey! Someone's arrived 10 minutes early. Can you check who it is? I'm still looking for my old Google glasses so I can make small talk while I access everyone's name, age, employment history, last dozen tweets, and a comprehensive list of their court, congressional and international parliamentary committee appearances.
G2 – (sighs) Let me check our Google Nest Hello video doorbell.
[Clicks into Nest app on latest model Pixel Android phone.]
G2 – Hmmm. I can't see anything but beige. Oh, they've stuck a piece of masking tape over the camera. It must be the Facebooks. Good grief, did we invite them? They're always so . . . nosey. Plus, you say something innocuous to a friend over lunch and next thing it's endless ads for over-40s face creams or novelty boxer shorts.
G1 – Sorry hun! I just meant to poke them on Messenger because we do have to acknowledge them now and then – Band of Tech Bros and all that – but I accidentally attached the dinner invite instead of the waving hands emoji.
[Bell rings again. And again. And again. And again. And again.]
G2 – (mutters) For holy Gordon Moore's sake, can you "friends" not just hold your algorithms and give me a chance to get to the door!
[Clatter of the well-heeled across the vast and ostentatious marble entry hall of a hillside Silicon Valley trophy manse.]
[Taps button on the Nest app.]
G2 – Facebooks! Is that you?
F1 – (flattered) Oh, thumbs up! Lmao! How did you guess? You must have seen us post an Insta selfie just now! Hashtag, PartyBros!
G2 – (rolls eyes) +1. Could you remove the tape please from the doorbell camera?
F2 – Ahahaha! Tears of Joy emoji! As soon as you turn your Pixel's ambient microphone back on! We just want to know you better! But, okay . . .
[Sound of ripping tape. A crowd of expectant faces suddenly looms on the app camera livestream.]
G2 – Oh! It's everyone, at once. Well! That's actually handy. Before I let you in, we have a small disclosure to make. Because we fully respect your privacy – and of course we do – I must inform you of all the smart devices operating in our home. I have a list of them plus a 50-page End User Licence Agreement for you all to sign before you cross the threshold. But I suspect you're perfectly happy with me circumventing those dull details and just telling you that we have lots and lots of devices, obvs, and your entry into our multimillion dollar home – even if you don't actually sign the document, haha! – means you agree our smart devices may film, photograph, listen to and track you as you visit our site, and after you leave. Further, all data gathered will be used to (speaks loudly) enhance and personalise your visit and (whispers quickly) also will be stored and analysed for other uses, some not yet envisaged and also, will be shared with our carefully selected third-party partners and I am sure you don't mind that there are 147 of them. If you opt out, or are an EU citizen with annoyingly complicated GDPR protections, no entry.
The Facebooks: Wow face emoji! We are so literally at home with that! Can we just add a clause to specify that any third parties must pay for any user data in libra? And publicly note again that we WELCOME regulation?
G2 – Uhhhh . . .
The Apples: Sorry, no can do. No potential access to data for third parties. Unless it's the Chinese government. We might be cool with the Chinese government.
The Microsofts: (wail in unison) This is so confusing! We need to think about whether this conflicts with our public stance highlighting the ethics of information technology. Meanwhile, can we pass you a copy of our president Brad Smith's well-reviewed new book Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age? It might just fit through the mail flap . . .
The Twitters: (cautiously) Okay, maybe . . . but only if you explain to us first how you are successfully monetising that visitor data. Because guys, we really need some insight.
The Amazons: (peering into doorbell camera) Don't. Be. Ridiculous. Do you have an Echo? You must have an Echo, SO much better than a Nest plus free shipping with Prime. [Amazons shout through the book-stuffed mail flap] Alexa? ALEXA?!! Open the ?@¿!# door, Alexa!!