Design For Trust

Digitalization of our physical world and the lack of trust

Google Home, a voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant is finally (official) launching in the UK. Besides Amazon Echo, the voice service from Amazon, we are now able to connect our most private place, our home, with all leading tech companies.

But wait. We do this quite a while. If you use a Samsung smart TV, your private space can become easily public. In March this year, WikiLeaks has published a dozen of documents, which give information about the inner workings of the CIA’s hacking programs. The claim is that the intelligence service of the US is able to hack into Samsung smart TVs and use them as covert microphones. The so called program „Weeping Angel“ is said to have been developed with the British MI5 and records using the device’s microphone when it is seemingly switched off. While the user falsely believes that the TV is switched off, the TV operates in a „Fake-Off“ mode, records conversations in the room and send it over to the CIA server.

„The increasing sophistication of surveillance techniques has drawn comparisons with George Orwell’s 1984, but “Weeping Angel”, developed by the CIA’s Embedded Devices Branch (EDB), which infests smart TVs, transforming them into covert microphones, is surely its most emblematic realization.“ the press release accompanying the release from WikiLeaks said.

In fact, these insights are not really shocking. Many of us are aware of being tracked and know that we are paying with our data to use a product or service. „I have nothing to hide“ is a common answer of people who were ask about privacy issues. Look up to your webcam. Why do you cover the camera?

When it comes to Google Home, it waits for the signal „OK Google“ to be fully active. All the things you say before that signal aren’t stored or sent over a network (according to Google) and are called ambient conversations. There is also a physical mute button on the back of the device, which cuts off the mic. Is it a „Real-Off“ or only a Samsung like „Fake-Off“ for the users who belief in the good?

When it comes to the digitalization of our physical world, what kind of indicators need a user to build trust towards a device, brand or environment?

Will it become the new normal for us, as always-connected consumers, to deal with surveillance? What about our society’s core values and the right to privacy? Is it still contemporary or do we have to change our values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors?

The digitalization of our physical world will undoubtedly be useful, but there are potential downsides that we must guard against. I believe that values, which have evolved over decades, should be protected. It is mandatory that when we design services and products, to keep a focus on designing for trust — because without the trust of users and consumers, the Internet of Things will never come to mass adoption and will not reach its full potential of innovation.