Do you think you behave differently when you know you're being watched? Web Development Manager Adam Leone discusses the issue of privacy in the ever-growing world of home devices and assistants.

In 2013, Dave Eggers wrote “The Circle” which is the story of Mae Holland and her place as a new employee at The Circle – a technology company aimed at developing new, sophisticated consumer based products.

After being recruited as a customer experience type person – Mae becomes overwhelmed with the facilities available for employees at The Circle, these include gyms, recreational activities, free food and parties… (Any of this sound familiar?)

The Circle is pioneering the SeeChange program, where participants wear a light, portable, camera that records every move and conversation that you make. Politicians are encouraged to wear them in a bid to become more transparent and appeal to voters. “Going transparent” is then coined as a term you use when you decide to enter the SeeChange program.

There’s a lot of toing and froing as to whether this is a good thing or not – this does after all make the world a more truthful place to live in.

I won’t spoil the story of Mae Holland for you – but the main focus is that The Circle has found a way to aggregate and store the moves and conversations of every individual – and then use that information to satisfy their own means. More importantly, they’ve made all of this reasonable and socially acceptable.

The Circle has been made into a film starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks – and I for one can’t wait to see it!  

"participants wear a light, portable, camera that records every move and conversation that you make"

Have you ever watched the Black Mirror episode called The Entire History of You? In this episode, the characters have been given a device called a “grain” which is implanted into their necks. The grain records everything they experience and they can then play back those moments in front of their own eyes, or on a screen. The story follows what impact the grain has both mentally and socially.

Becoming paranoid and less happy is a symptom of constantly going back through those experiences and analysing them. The sad part is, ultimately there’s nothing you can do about those actions except watch them over and over again. These experiences are stored somewhere at your request or approval.

The above may all sound a bit far-fetched, but is it?

It’s almost no secret that smartphones are recording your every move and conversations. We know we’re being tracked via GPS so that the maps app works perfectly. And we all have those moments whereby we look at the adverts on our phone or on a computer and realise “I was talking about that with so and so the other day…”

Google and Amazon have taken living in The Circle and recording the entire history of you one step further by selling their representatives (or assistants) to live in your own home – rent free, you’ll have to pay if you would like one of these.

I am of course talking about the new wave of home devices called Alexa and Google Home.

These devices can manage your temperature, music, shopping lists, other mobile devices – and you can even talk to them and ask questions. These devices are on all the time, so no need to worry about them breaking down or running out of battery. Great!

They are of course recording your private, home based conversations let’s not forget – but that’s OK, because you wouldn’t be doing anything you wouldn’t want anyone else to find out about right? So let’s say goodbye to privacy and rejoice at the age of transparency. How do you feel about that?

I’m not against home devices, but I’m just taking a moment to stop and think about the implications of owning one of these robots.

What is Google and Amazon selling here? What’s in the small print of owning one of these assistants? How much easier will our lives really be?
I can’t say that I’m convinced at this privacy trade off. Surely if Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like want to get hold of our thoughts via conversation – to sell to advertisers, shouldn’t they start paying us?
OK – their services are free to use, but surely this method of infiltrating someone’s private life now tips the balance? If they did pay you for this private information – how much is your privacy worth?

I’d love to know your thoughts, especially if you work for Google or Amazon!