Privacy Concerns Largely Ignored At Annual Consumer Electronics Show NPR's Scott Simon talks with tech writer Pete Pachal about the issue of privacy and user data being on display — or not — at this year's annual Consumer Electronics Show.
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Privacy Concerns Largely Ignored At Annual Consumer Electronics Show

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Privacy Concerns Largely Ignored At Annual Consumer Electronics Show

Privacy Concerns Largely Ignored At Annual Consumer Electronics Show

Privacy Concerns Largely Ignored At Annual Consumer Electronics Show

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NPR's Scott Simon talks with tech writer Pete Pachal about the issue of privacy and user data being on display — or not — at this year's annual Consumer Electronics Show.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas wrapped up yesterday. Tech companies showcased their latest gadgets and predicted trends. But something you didn't hear, according to our next guest, was a frank conversation about privacy. Tech writer Pete Pachal wrote about this from Mashable. He just got back from CES and joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

PETE PACHAL: Hey, my pleasure.

SIMON: So many scandals over the past year involving platforms violating privacy, data harvesting, data breaches. What were people talking about, if not that?

PACHAL: Well, they were talking about a lot of hype for the new technologies just around the corner. I mean, CES is very much a kind of a tech bubble in some ways. So it's nonstop hype about new technologies like 5G, like smart devices and, that I found, not really a ton of talk about what has become a very prevalent conversation in tech, which is, how are companies using the data that they kind of need to offer a lot of these services?

SIMON: Haven't a lot of Americans become aware of the fact that we are the product?

PACHAL: I think that's a - sometimes an oversimplification. But, you know, there's a bit of a creep factor now, to put it in the plainest terms. You click agree and maybe, you know, ads follow you around the net or - that's sort of the mildest form of these things. But in the sort of worst-case scenario, as you said, you know, your data might be sold in sort of an unethical way. We're all a little bit more wary, at least over here, about that kind of thing.

SIMON: Over here in contrast to where?

PACHAL: Well, in contrast to other parts of the world. I would say what I saw at CES, which tends to favor big companies like Samsung, like LG, Sony - you know, obviously, are based mostly in Asia - the conversation around privacy there - it hasn't quite penetrated in the same way, at least by my reckoning from what I saw at CES because - I'll give you one example.

LG - they talked very highly about its smart home sort of platform, that all these devices have a connection to the Internet and they're using their sensors to kind of learn your preferences and better tailor what they can do for you. That all sounds good until you kind of realize, well, by definition, what they're doing is profiling you.

SIMON: Yeah.

PACHAL: Now, that sounds benevolent. And I certainly realize these technologies generally can't work without doing that. But what protections do they have on that data? All of that is still very opaque.

SIMON: Are there are companies that are trying, in a sense, to take advantage of growing suspicion among some consumers by offering more privacy?

PACHAL: Yeah. There are some. There's what I would describe as kind of a cottage industry of sort of these privacy products that - it's usually routers and sort of Internet of things devices. You know, apart from the one billboard put up by Apple, there really wasn't a lot of discussion about privacy at CES this year.

SIMON: Well, tell us about that billboard because I understand that Apple wasn't there as a company, but they did have an impact.

PACHAL: That's correct. Apple decided to put on the side of a hotel - and this is very common at CES, so it's these big ads that are all over town - that what happens in your iPhone stays on your iPhone, and pointing users to their website on privacy. So it was a very pointed point they were making. And I would've loved to see the companies there sort of run with it and make some reassurances, at least, about privacy and how much they want to secure your data and make sure you have control over it. But that was very absent.

In Apple's case, it was probably more of a tap on the shoulder to Google, one of their rivals. And Google made a huge splash at the show. There was Google advertising all over Vegas, certainly at the show. And, you know, Google certainly had its share of privacy and data scandals.

SIMON: Tech writer Pete Pachal in New York, thanks so much for being with us.

PACHAL: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

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