Google Is Testing Controversial Google Assistant Update


Jul. 26 2019, Published 3:14 p.m. ET

Google Assistant’s controversial update

The fight for supremacy in the virtual assistants market is heating up. Google Assistant is staring at a major update that could elicit security concerns. As part of a proposed beta update, Google wants to make it possible for Google Assistant to send messages even from a locked device. The proposed beta update comes at a time when Google is staring at a $13 million fine as part of a privacy lawsuit.

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Virtual assistants capable of offering high levels of convenience are in demand. The ability to use a device even with a locked screen should take convenience to another level. It also affirms how Google is positioning itself in the global intelligent virtual assistant market. Data by Zion Market Research indicates that the intelligent virtual assistant global market will grow at a CAGR of 35.4% between 2019 and 2025.

Given the amount of revenues up for grabs, Google upgrading Google Assistant makes a lot of sense. Growing demand for smart speakers as well as chatbots continues to fuel demand for interactive virtual assistants. In the space, Google is battling for market share against the likes of Amazon’s (AMZN) Alexa, Microsoft’s (MSFT) Cortana, and Apple’s (AAPL) Siri.

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Privacy and security concerns with virtual assistants

Investments in smart homes have also given rise to smart speakers. Consequently, Google with Google Home finds itself in fierce competition with Amazon devices. However, the integration of virtual assistants in devices is increasingly stirring up privacy concerns. The lack of confidentiality of data and passive listening involved with smart devices is a major point of concern. A study carried out by Microsoft indicates that people are uncomfortable in sharing their data with internet companies.

In addition to privacy concerns, Google is yet again evoking security concerns with the new update on Google Assistant. By locking devices, people essentially try to block other people from accessing whatever is inside. However, that won’t be entirely possible with the new beta update on Google Assistant.

Google is yet to roll out the new Google Assistant beta update to all people. However, it will be interesting to see if a feature that allows users to turn off Google Assistant will come into play. It will also be interesting to see if the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple will unveil a similar feature.

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Google to pay $13 million over privacy lawsuit

The last thing that Google needs is issues with Google Assistant. The company is under immense regulatory scrutiny over the way it handles people’s data and information. Similarly, the company has had to settle a privacy lawsuit that threatened to cost it billions of dollars.

Google is to pay $13 million to settle claims it broke federal wire-tapping laws by accessing people’s information without consent. Under the project, Google used cars to photograph neighborhoods as part of a street-mapping project. However, the company found itself in trouble on claims that the cars ended up gathering people’s emails and password.

Court filings indicate that Google engineers knowingly built software to intercept additional information. Claims that the engineers did it intentionally are one of the reasons why the company is at a crossroads with regulators.

In 2013, a court ruling forced Google to pay $7 million to settle a similar case brought up by 38 states. The company did agree to destroy the additional information collected as part of the settlement as well. The company also agreed to teach people how to protect their information while using public Wi-Fi.

Fast forward, Google is to pay $13 million upon approval by a judge to settle the decade-long lawsuit. A good chunk of the fine includes monetary relief for 22 plaintiffs. The remaining amount is to go towards eight organizations, focused on data privacy and consumer protection.

The $13 million fine is a slap on the wrist for Google, as the Street View project affected tens of millions of people. However, the company can heave a sigh of relief as regulatory fines are piling pressure on its earnings.

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Soaring regulatory fines

For starters, Google is to pay $1.7 billion to settle claims it engaged in illegal advertising practices in Europe. In 2018, it was the subject of a record $5 billion fine, over Android antitrust violations in Europe. Google is also trying to overturn a $2.7 billion fine over claims it engaged in anti-competitive practices on search results.

However, it is not the only company under regulatory scrutiny over the way it handles people’s data and information.

Likewise, Facebook (FB) is the subject of a $5 billion fine over privacy breaches in relation to how it handled people’s data. The $5 billion fine stems from the company’s action that resulted in the exposure of 87 million users’ information. The record fine comes amid calls that regulators need to do more to ensure accountability for tech companies. Twitter (TWTR) is another company under scrutiny amid privacy and data security concerns. However, the company is yet to attract a hefty fine as is the case with other Internet giants.


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