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Privacy Tech | Voice assistants, smart gadgets dominate CES 2017 Related reading: A trans-Atlantic discussion on 'surveillance-based advertising'





The annual Consumer Electronics Show is currently taking place in Las Vegas, as the massive tech event plans to build on its record breaking 177,393 attendees from last year.

CES 2017 comes only months before the show’s 50th anniversary, when the first CES was held in New York City in June 1967. Back then, the hot products were pocket radios and TVs with integrated circuits. Needless to say, the technology this year has come a long way from the televisions of 1967. To get the most out of the offerings at CES 2017, all you need to do is speak up.

Raise your voice

Voice assistants have been one of the most popular products at this year's CES. Despite the fact Amazon does not officially participate in the event, the tech giant’s Alexa virtual voice assistant has made a big splash. The most noteworthy moment came as Ford announced it will collaborate with Amazon to integrate Alexa into its cars later this year. The Alexa integration will allow drivers to play music, ask for directions, add items to shopping lists, inquire about the weather, and have waypoints transferred into their in-car navigation system.

Expect to see Alexa pop up in new LG refrigerators, air purifiers, and even in humanoid robots.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon, Google and Microsoft are all working behind the scenes at CES to get their voice assistants into televisions, cable boxes and other home appliances. Analysts are anticipating several dozen announcements related to voice assistants by the end of CES 2017.

Specialized voice assistants are coming around the corner as well. Holi Creative Chairman Greg Gerard said his company is creating a smart alarm clock called Bonjour, while startup robotics company Jibo plans on creating a personal home robot designed to recognize human emotions. The Rokid Alien smart home hub offers an interface displaying information related to the user's request, an area where many other smart devices struggle.

Emotech’s Olly is designed to offer an even more personal voice assistant than the Amazon Echo. Olly develops a different personality depending on the user interacting with the device, as well as playing music and even offering advice such as telling users to go to the gym.

Of course, privacy concerns about voice assistants have been in the headlines recently, notably stemming from a murder investigation in Arkansas. Law enforcement wants access to Amazon's Echo in the hopes of finding recorded evidence of the homicide. The case has prompted concerns that "always-on" voice assistants will spur more law enforcement requests for user data from companies. With a clear rise in more of these devices, it will be interesting to see how companies deal with access to user data. Will they eventually begin posting transparency reports for the public? 

Smart guys

Voice assistants aren’t the only smart devices making waves. Health care wearables have also been catching the eyes of event goers.

Such wearables include Willow’s smart breast pump system, which automatically tracks the amount of milk collected, the date, and the length of the session over a Bluetooth app. UPI gathered together top gadgets for improving health, which included a device designed for pregnant women to track their contractions. 

GoPro is attempting to catch up with the Snapchat Spectacles by creating software allowing users to upload their videos in real time.

Other companies are releasing smart mirrors. Some require the user to take a photo first and can teach children proper hygiene. With concerns around spying through web cams and the use of facial recognition as well as the collection of children's information, it's hard not to imagine privacy advocates won't raise concerns about such devices. 

U by Moen created a smart device allowing users to preheat the water in the shower directly from their phone, Fox 6 Now reports. The L’Oreal Group created a smart hair brush where a user can track their brushing habits through their smartphones. Plus, if a user is inundated with smart devices and doesn’t want to burn their smartphone out, a new remote can help remedy the issue. The Sevenhugs’ Smart Remote allows a user to control any smart device in their home with its touchscreen.

Even vacations are catching smart device fever, as the Carnival Corporation plans to introduce smartband devices to let users customize their vacations.

Wearables always bring with them privacy concerns - what data is being collected? With whom is that data shared? How sensitive is that data and is it encrypted or secure? Clearly, wearable technology is getting more integrated with daily life, so hopefully privacy protections are built in to this new wave of intimate wearables.  

Droning on

Of course, it wouldn’t be a tech event without drones making an appearance.

Beijing’s Zero Zero Robotics created the Hover Camera Passport, which drone users can operate through two very distinct methods. While the drone can be operated through a smartphone app, its “auto-follow” setting is the main feature attracting attention. The product uses facial recognition technology to lock onto a target. After capturing an individual’s face, it will follow the person around, taking pictures as it goes along. Hopefully that person has consented to being tracked!  

Other drones on the scene include the Flir Duo, a device possessing a camera with thermal imaging capabilities, and the Vuze, a small camera allowing users to taking 360-degree pictures to shoot virtual reality videos. For those familiar with privacy law, it's hard not to imagine the privacy issues that come out of the use of thermal imaging in Kyllo.  

For one of the more simpler items on the CES floor, Bell & Wyson created a lightbulb also doubling as a surveillance camera.

CES continues to showcase innovative technology — it does every year. New technology in 1967 didn't have to consider privacy, but, no doubt, the tech in 2017 will certainly affect privacy in deep and intimate ways. Though it's exciting to see this trove of new gadgets, the increased use of voice-recognition, wearable tracking, facial recognition, thermal imaging, and virtual reality drone camera capabilities puts the onus on privacy and the security of these devices. Hopefully these companies have kept privacy in mind from the start of design. If not, we may see more reports on these gadgets, but for much different reasons. 

Top photo taken by Molly Riley/UPI


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