Dictation - that may put you in jeopardy

Most of us are aware of the use of the applications that offers voice dictation feature. If we talk to the IOS or Android application that has the dictation feature, it will convert your voice/words to text. This will help us to create larger documents without awkwardly typing out the words on the on-display keyboard. We can talk to the application while driving. My friend who writes stories used to tell me that, all good imaginations or ideas come to him while driving. So he uses an application to talk while driving and the application converts his voice to text and later he posts those in his blog. One time when he was travelling towards a hill station, my friend had a tough time, even though good sceneries had given him lot of threads for writing stories, but he was not able type those because mobile network/internet coverage was not available over there for the voice dictation software he was using.  :-)

Most of the voice dictation applications require an internet connection to work. That is where my concern starts and the main reason for writing this article.

Whatever you dictate will be send to the application provider server and in turn it converts what you say into text on your device. So the conversion does not happen at the device level, most of the people were not aware of this. The advantage of doing speech to text processing in its datacenters rather than on a mobile device is about processing power. Also the amount of samples they get from millions of users will help them to improve accuracy.

For accuracy these application access the names and nicknames in our device address book. They call it for accuracy and offer that they won’t share it with anyone. They also offer that if we turn off the dictation feature or uninstall the application, they will delete our user data from their server. How could we identify that the application is sending out only names from the address book or whether sending any other data as well?  How long they are going to keep our data even if we turn off the dictation application. No way, we can confirm this.

I won’t blame any of the application providers for this. They would have written all these information in the user agreement, terms and conditions. How many of us read the user agreement before accepting and installing the application?  I am not fear mongering here, users who use these application should understand about the privacy risks associated with it.

We talked about using this application for personal purpose. The issue becomes worse when you use these applications for your business purpose. If you have the official email client installed on your phone, sometimes you remember about an important email that needs to be sent while driving, you will open the application and talk. The voice will be converted to text and you will copy- paste that in your email. However important business information is already sent to the application provider’s server and will be there. I totally accept what the provider says, they won’t look at our data and it won’t be used for any other purpose, but what will happen if someone compromises their server. If our data is confidential or sensitive information, it’s not you who will be in trouble; it will be your organization. We really don’t know how data is communicated, stored or analyzed.

Here I am not at all against using this application. We need to be smart in using these applications if privacy and security rank high on the list of your priorities. Companies should step up and ban the use of these services in their workplaces because there is no guarantee about the security of the data. Sending confidential information to unknown locations, which would in turn be viewed by unknown people, is totally unacceptable for me.

However I expect that people would be smarter in selecting the applications in their smart phones and will give more importance to security and privacy.

Authored by Aju Nair

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