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How Apple's privacy stance could give Google an AI edge

Matt Kapko | June 24, 2015
Today, there's a tradeoff between user privacy and the effectiveness of artificial intelligence (AI) apps such as Siri and Google Now. Apple's strong privacy stance may drum up kudos from consumers but also give Google a technological advantage in AI.

Crane, who consults for companies looking to use AI, says it's important for users to understand the specific services they receive when they share potentially sensitive information. "Whatever the volume of data collected it has to be manipulated and used in order to give the customer more of the service information they value," says Crane. "If at any time it is used to promote a service or information that the customer didn't want, then it will quickly turn into a negative experience." 

More data is not necessarily better, according to Ben Cheung, cofounder of the AI scheduling app, Genee. Virtual assistant apps ask for a lot of private information but give users only slight convenience or usefulness in return, Cheung says. "There is good reason for them to cumulate the large set of data first and then figure out what features they can provide to the user, but from the user's point of view, that tradeoff doesn't make sense." 

Apple's privacy stance a shot at Google

Cheung says native virtual assistant apps such as Siri and Google's "Now on Tap" represent narrow interpretations of AI. Apple, Google and others collect data in bulk because they want to serve a broad set of basic functions. "It's more important to capture the right data and to know exactly what to do with [it] than just having more data," Cheung says.

Users need to feel like they are in control of the information they release, as well as when it is shared and for what purpose, according to Crone. "Making it difficult or opaque for an individual to change their existing choices will prove unfruitful in the long term."

Heath Ahrens, CEO and founder of the text-to-speech platform iSpeech, says Apple's position on privacy is a competitive tactic against Google. "Apple reasons that since they can't directly benefit from the data, at least they can poison Google's reservoir. Google's entire business is built on selling advertisements targeted using personal data, [so] they will suffer as a result."

Apple and Cook get kudos for taking such a strong stance on user privacy, but as a result Siri and other Apple services could fall behind Google over time. Google also has competitive advantages over Apple's Siri because of its strength and legacy in search, as well as its capability to correlate query results with user data, according to Ahrens.

He who has the most user data wins at AI

Skytree's Gray doesn't see much of a disparity between Siri and Google Now today, but he expects that to change based on how much data the companies collect and utilize over time. Apple and Google are presumably applying similar AI models and computational resources to their efforts in AI, which makes the amount and quality of data the remaining factors of differentiation, he says. "The system which can use more and better data will win."

 

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