If consumers can be concerned about AI, so can workers


One frequently voiced concern about intelligent voice assistants such as Alexa and Google Home is that they can eavesdrop on their owners.

Which, it turns out, they can! And while this form of virtual spying mostly is used to deliver targeted ads to device owners (“Hey, that’s weird; we were just talking about beer, and now there’s an ad for Heineken on my phone!”), it’s the kind of thing that can be slightly to deeply disturbing for consumers who value their digital privacy.

But a Harris Survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S. shows that AI creeps out many consumers for reasons beyond its ability to listen to conversations, such as when it knows information “that involves other people in their social networks,” according to intelligent virtual assistant vendor Interactions.

Among the things that bother consumers the most is when AI:

  • Knows other household members’ past interactions with a company (52% of survey respondents)
  • Uses social media data to make suggestions (50%)
  • Knows a consumer’s past purchase history from a different company (42%)
  • Sounds or interacts like a human without notifying the caller that it’s a virtual assistant (42%)

Naturally, whatever concerns people have about AI as consumers will follow them into the workplace. No enterprise employee wants to worry about their AI assistants trolling their data for contact information, transaction records, or proprietary information.

Even more worrisome is the chance that AI can be used by 1) hackers to fool employees into thinking they’re being contacted by a colleague or business partner or 2) employers to monitor workers. I’ve written about these concerns at least a couple of times (see When your personal digital assistant is a spy and When the office snitch is a machine).

“Although it’s beneficial for AI to have some degree of knowledge about consumers, the AI creepy line does exist, and companies should be aware of it,” Interactions said.

The same goes for these companies as employers. It’s important to be as transparent as possible with employees about what AI is (and can be) used for. Otherwise enterprises will face resistance that will render their AI initiatives less effective and possibly create an unhealthy and mistrustful work environment. Which isn’t exactly a breeding ground for productivity.

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