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Let’s not sacrifice privacy by “democratising” AI

Author: Alan Duric / Source: IT Pro Portal

Bots and the AI revolution are here – they help people to appeal parking tickets, choose films, book flights and hotels, speak to banks and even submit asylum applications.

133 million monthly active users who’ve asked over 12 billion questions from Microsoft’s digital assistant Cortana are proof that investing into voice recognition, machine learning, pattern matching, and other building blocks of the AI, is starting to be big business.

The brightest technical minds, industry attention and investor dollars have moved from building apps to building bots, or integrations, on top of existing communication platforms, and tools to build these bots and services. This will have a huge impact on the data privacy and security.

A question of privacy

The creators behind the integrations and personalised services delivered via chat or voice assistants want to learn about you, your preferences, tastes and habits, and to use that knowledge to personalise the service and anticipate your needs.

In March this year a bug was reported in Google Allo that leaked people’s last search results to others in a shared chats, potentially revealing sensitive information. It is clear that data protection and security needs to be a major focus, especially as these tools transition into business use. A banking bot, for example, should never have the ability to share data on the last customer it was talking to with another user. In addition to bots, integrations, which is the enabling of different external applications to interact with messaging systems are quickly becoming an intrinsic to the evolution of businesses.

Many bots and integrations are deployed on platforms run by companies whose business models are collecting and selling your personal data for adverts or to advertisers directly, which is a privacy issue in itself.

Take for example, The Bank of America which now has a bot on Facebook to help people manage their personal finances. The knock-on effect of this is that the social media platform now has information about customers’ finances, and is happy to analyse it and sell it to advertisers.

The psychology of advertising is complex and well-informed – consider adverts targeted to you at the right point in your pay cycle, or when your credit balance is high, and think about how much more likely they are to succeed. Or vice versa: payday loan ads when your bank account is empty can have a very damaging effect on people’s long time financial outlook.

The challenge for business is even more complex. For example, a pizza delivery company that uses a bot to serve its customers could be helping Facebook to identify pizza lovers. This in turn allows competing services to buy advertising from Facebook to target and promote their offers to the same people, jeopardising the business which initially used the bot.

E2EE for bot integrations

There are many types of bot interactions that people don’t want to share with companies, and they shouldn’t have to. Consumers and businesses will need to draw a line and decide if they are…

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