miércoles, 4 de septiembre de 2019

New digital intermediaries and the lessons from history

As Shoshana Zuboff details in her book "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism", the raison d'être of digital platforms is the continuous search of new sources of data surplus. First, they started with the explotation of data sources from the virtual world. Once exhausted and taking advantage of technological advances, the logical step is the explotation of data coming from the physical world. Our location was the first target, now it is the turn of our conversations and faces. 

Let's start with the case of the explotation of our conversations. This have been the year of the first battle among the digital giants (Apple-Siri, Google-Google Assistant, Amazon-Alexa, Microsoft-Cortana) for the nascent market that promises big benefits.  According with Reuters, the Voice Assistant Market is growing rapidly over 39% of CAGR and is expected to reach at approx. USD 7.8 Billion by 2023. Other sources  are more more modest and forecast approximately USD 7.7 billion by 2025, although with a similar CAGR of above 39% between 2019 and 2025.

The new market of products and services has begun to raise the eyebrows of regulators, particularly after the leak of private conversations recorded with Google Assistant and the confirmation of the recording and listening of conversations as regular practice to improve the product, furthermore they identified the practice as "a critical part of the process of building speech technology, and is necessary to creating products like the Google Assistant”.  The practice was also recognised by Amazon and Apple, and the three market leaders agreed on a temporal pause for the recording and listening process (particularly in Europe). However, Amazon quickly restarted the practice although under an opt-out option of the users.

Beside the invasion of privacy that some European privacy watchdogs started to denounce, there may be further harming consequences to competition (similar to those we are currently experiencing in search, social networks or market places) if we do not take preventive measures. The French regulator, HADOPI, has already published a first report on the possible threats for the creative and audiovisual markets of the integration of voice assistants with audiovisual platforms. Other French regulator, ARCEP, has included voice assistants as one of the critical intermediaries between users and an open internet, and therefore as a possible target for net neutrality regulation.

The precautions with this new kind of intermediaries are more than justified due to what have happened in the short history of the digital era. Perhaps, if the same cautions would have taken in the past the present would be different.

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