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"Alexa, Delete Everything I've Said"

on Friday, 09 October 2020.

Amazon announces options to empower privacy at home; meanwhile there's an increase in surveillance software in the workplace.

With the roll out of the Government's Test and Trace app, the US negotiations with TikTok and several announcements from Amazon, privacy and data collection continues to make headlines.

More Privacy Options for Alexa Users

Amazon has announced new features which they explain give “greater control” to Alexa users. One of these is a new option to ask “Alexa, delete everything I’ve said”. Alexa users can now review their privacy settings by asking the device what their current settings are, and new settings allow the user to keep all requests to Alexa unsaved. These changes have been welcomed by privacy activists.

Amazon has also announced its new flying camera technology which pairs with its Ring door bell. Although the product is only available in the US for the time being, the press release emphasised the privacy by design elements that will be crucial to GDPR compliance, such as two-factor authentication and a newly added security and privacy area of the app. They also plan to introduce end-to-end encryption for video. Ring explains that privacy had been 'top of mind' when they created the product, citing practical steps such as only recording video in flight rather than when docked, being noisy so that people know that it is recording and only having a five-minute recording allowance so that it can only be used as security rather than surveillance. Critics are concerned that Ring's drone is normalising surveillance and note that Ring holds patents for facial recognition technology that could potentially scan through law enforcement databases.

With global spending on smart home products set to be around £24.5 billion this year, we can expect continued debate about technology companies' use of consumer personal data and an increased focus on transparency. It is interesting to see that the introduction of the Test and Trace app appears to have increased public awareness of surveillance technology and this will perhaps spur tech companies on to meet the demands of a more aware consumer base. The ICO has said that it is keen to enable innovation.

Are Employers Snooping on Home Workers?

While consumer tech seems to be moving (albeit slowly) towards a greater engagement with privacy issues and consumer choice, home working might be heading in the opposite direction.

There has been a rise in the use of surveillance software used on employees with Sneek and Hubstaff reporting a rapid increase in users since the beginning of lockdown. In addition, as has been widely reported in the news, the ICO is looking into staff monitoring carried out by Barclays Bank, albeit this appears to relate to practices carried out by the bank pre-lockdown. Surveillance software can take photographs of colleagues at intervals from as short as one minute at a time, and share them with management and can also monitor website use and keystrokes. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development advises that the use of surveillance can damage trust between employee and employer. We anticipate that this will become an area for claims against employers who use their surveillance technology over-zealously or inappropriately.

Businesses considering using this kind of software should takes steps to ensure that its use is in line with data protection law. This includes completing a Data Privacy Impact Assessment, ensure employees are aware of such monitoring and make sure privacy notices are up to date and reflect the use of new software. Those responsible for monitoring other staff should complete bespoke training on their privacy responsibilities and effective and appropriate use of the software.

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