Tech investor John Borthwick doesn’t mince words when it comes to how he perceives smart speakers from the likes of Google (GOOG, GOOGL) and Amazon (AMZN). The founder of venture capital firm Betaworks and former Time Warner (T) and AOL (VZ) executive believes the information-gathering performed by such devices is tantamount to surveillance.
“I would say that there’s two or three layers sort of problematic layers with these new smart speakers, smart earphones that are in market now,” Borthwick told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer during an interview for his series “Influencers.”
“And so the first is, from a consumer standpoint, user standpoint, is that these, these devices are being used for what’s — it’s hard to call it anything but surveillance,” Borthwick said.
The way forward? Some form of regulation that gives users more control over their own data.
“I personally believe that you, as a user and as somebody who likes technology, who wants to use technology, that you should have far more rights about your data usage than we have today,” Borthwick said.
Smart assistants face a reckoning
The venture capitalist’s comments follow a string of controversies surrounding smart assistants including Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s (AAPL) Siri, in which each company admitted that human workers listen to users’ queries as a means of improving their digital assistants’ voice recognition capabilities.
“They’ve gone to those devices and they’ve said, ‘Give us data when people passively act upon the device.’ So in other words, I walk over to that light switch,” Borthwick said. “I turn it off, turn it on, it’s now giving data back to the smart speaker.”