Martin Geddes

Privacy and the Ethics of Hypervoice

Given that data privacy and its enemies are in the news right now, it’s a good moment to dwell on the ethics of Hypervoice. 

The default with telephony is that what we say is ephemeral. That is because telephony is meant to resemble ‘being there’ in a room with someone, as if talking through a paper-thin partition. By their very nature, Hypervoice conversations involve persisting data, and make it searchable and sharable. This automatically raises privacy issues.

With Hypervoice, we add another party to that shared conversational space – one who can remember both the spoken voice and its related digital interactions. In such a Hypervoice application, it is a fine line between the listener being an unwelcome eavesdropper and a helpful scribe. The physical actions of both roles may be the same; the difference is in how that third party relates to those who are communicating.

There are some principles that are useful in any kind of human relationship, and work equally well in this context. These “three R’s” are basic rules that Hypervoice systems must follow to be relationally and ethically sound.

Respect.

Treat others as humans, not database records or mindless sources of money or metadata. Hiding privacy settings, or obfuscating their language, is disrespectful. Users need to have a full and fair understanding of what they are agreeing to. Recording conversations without fully informed consent is deeply disrespectful, no matter what its legality.

Responsibility.

Any Hypervoice system needs to take responsibility for the consequences of capturing data. As a baseline, it needs to be securely stored, compliant with local privacy and data protection legislation, and destroyed at the end of its useful life. The idea of responsibility extends further than these hygiene factors, for instance to include education of systems developers and users. 

Reciprocity.

This is the essence of ‘do unto others…’ If you can record the conversation, then so should I be able to; and I should be able to access the data you hold on me, and vice versa. I will abide by your corporate data retention rules, if you abide by mine. Hypervoice systems must be able to negotiate between the parties to a communication, and also manage iniquities in the balance of power that may exist among them.

By following these simple rules, Hypervoice application providers can avoid their version of a privacy nightmare, whereby call recording and activity stream creation feel to users like being bugged and spied upon. The potential for positive use of this technology is huge; and the shadow of its potential for abuse cannot be ignored either. For Hypervoice conversations to become the new norm, privacy issues must be addressed head on and straightforward solutions put in place to ensure everyone participating is comfortable. 

We welcome your comments on this topic as we see it to be an important ongoing conversation among the Hypervoice community.