One of the biggest features we're expecting to see in the new Apple TV is really troubling for privacy
Next week, Apple is expected to make a long-awaited update to its Apple TV set-top box, which hasn't been refreshed since 2012.
The device is said to bring a handful of new features to the Apple TV that we've seen in the company's other devices, such as a new interface, an App Store, and Apple's virtual assistant Siri.
Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray who's usually plugged-in to what the company is working on, thinks the new Apple TV will be able to recognize our voices without the press of a button. This feature could raise privacy concerns, experts told us.
Siri is expected to play a really big role in the next Apple TV. A report from the usually-accurate Mark Gurman says we'll be able to control nearly every aspect of the TV with our voices, and the new remote for the Apple TV will even have a little button that activates Siri, he reports.
But there's also another theory for how we might be able to use Siri in the new Apple TV. In a note he released last week, Munster says the new Apple TV could also come with a "passive listening" feature.
The new Apple TV could include passive listening similar to Amazon's Echo that could extend beyond context and search to control HomeKit which would control smart devices in your home.
It sounds like Munster believes the Apple TV may allow you to activate commands by simply saying "Hey Siri" to start a dialogue rather than just holding down a button on a remote control. This is similar to what you can already to with the iPhone — within the settings menu, you can enable a hands-free version of Siri that lets you trigger the feature by simply saying that phrase, though the feature only works when the iPhone is plugged in to a power outlet for charging.
Security experts, however, believe this could cause trouble. There are a lot of unanswered questions around these "always listening" devices that have yet to be answered, such as how they can use the data, who they can share it with, and whether or not they're using the data for alternative purposes.
"[The license agreements] have an extraordinarily wide latitude," Bruce Schneier, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law, said to Business Insider. "And that's a huge worry."
The new Apple TV wouldn't be the only gadget to boast this capability — Amazon touts its Echo as a combination of a speaker and virtual assistant that you can speak to naturally when you have a question.
You would either press a button or say a "wake word" to tell the speaker that it's time to listen. Your requests are then beamed into the cloud to retrieve an answer (you can see everything the Echo has recorded and delete commands, too).
Motorola's Moto X smartphone also allows you to access Google Now by simply saying a phrase without pressing any buttons on the phone. Samsung was in hot water earlier this year over its smart TVs, which pick up your speech so that you can control your television hands-free.
Any of these devices and services allow you to turn off their voice-recognition capabilities at any time. But, even if you do agree to their terms and conditions, there's still a reason to be concerned according to Marc Rotenberg, president and executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which filed a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission regarding Samsung's smart TVs in Feburary.
"We don't think it's enough to bury somewhere in the terms and conditions of the product what basically becomes a type of consent, where the consumer says, 'It's okay to do this I understand the risk,'" Rotenberg said to Business Insider. "Even if the owner of the device consents to it, it's likely the case that other people inside the home haven't."
These types of gadgets don't actually "listen" — i.e. record your speech or send information to a server in the cloud or third party — unless you say a trigger phrase. And, you can erase any of your queries from Google and Amazon at any time.
According to Schneier, however, that's still troubling because it means the gadgets are surveilling in order to detect those trigger phrases.
"It's impossible to know if you say the word unless it listens," he said. "What are they doing with the data they're hearing, and under what rules do they allow the government to listen in?"
Rotenberg believes that there should be legislation in place that defines what companies can do with the data obtained from these always-listening gadgets.
"We're not against the new technologies that provide different ways to get online," Rotenberg said. "What we're objecting to is this secretive monitoring of activity inside the home. And that's essentially the problem with always-on devices, it's a little too easy."
Schneier thinks that these types of privacy concerns will always exist as personal technology evolves and our gadgets have wider access to what we're doing and saying.
"Surveillance is all about convenience," he said. "[Your phone] knows where you are, when you wake up, when you go to sleep...it knows all of that stuff. And you're happy with that because it rings when someone calls you."
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