Thursday, April 25, 2024

As we travel into new AI world in 2024, it’s the same old internet privacy tradeoff for consumers

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KEY POINTS

  • Google’s recent integrations of Bard, its chat-based AI tool, with a host of Google apps and services is one example of moving generative AI more directly into consumer life via text, image, and voice interactions.
  • Travel is an example of where generative AI will move from a behind-the-scenes driver of efficiency to consumer-facing intelligent concierge.
  • But data privacy and protection will loom over AI as it becomes easier to use, as has been the case with every internet era innovation, from search to mobile to social media.

How is Generative AI Shaping the Future of Travel?

Generative AI is no longer confined to the shadows; it’s emerging as a pivotal player in transforming consumer experiences, particularly in the travel industry. Google’s Bard, a chat-based AI tool, exemplifies this shift by seamlessly integrating into various Google apps and services, making it a potential supercharged version of Google Assistant.

From summarizing emails to booking trips, Bard acts as an intelligent concierge, leveraging vast amounts of data while tailoring responses to individual user preferences. This transition brings generative AI from a behind-the-scenes efficiency driver to a forefront tool, fundamentally altering how people plan and experience travel.

The application of generative AI extends beyond planning; it becomes an ongoing companion during trips. Users can seek advice on-the-go, like asking for the best route on a hiking trail. The AI adapts content to user preferences, creating a personalized experience.

However, as AI becomes deeply ingrained in daily life, concerns about data privacy surface. Tal Zamir, CTO of cybersecurity company Perception Point, highlights potential security risks, emphasizing the need for users to balance convenience with robust data protection measures.

AI’s Evolution in Online Experiences: A Shift in Consumer Behavior

The integration of generative AI into online experiences has been steadily growing, with major tech players like Google utilizing AI in search algorithms. This evolution marks a shift towards “zero click” search results, where AI refines precision for user queries without the need for additional clicks.

Whether it’s Google or ChatGPT, gen AI models are evolving from early stages trained on static data to learning from the dynamic internet and real-life user behaviors. This evolution is particularly evident in online shopping and travel booking, where user psychology and preferences shape recommendations and search results.

AI’s role in online experiences is not limited to search; Google positions Bard as a creative collaborator, offering assistance in diverse projects, from resume writing to vacation planning. Despite assurances from Google regarding the protection of personal information, concerns linger among internet privacy watchdogs.

Jeff Chester, Executive Director of the Center for Digital Democracy, sees AI as an extension of a business model that has continuously compromised user privacy. Regulatory efforts are underway, but the extent of AI’s impact on privacy is yet to be fully addressed.

The Interplay Between AI, Privacy, and Consumer Tradeoffs

AI’s positive implications, such as health innovation, coexist with privacy concerns. The ability of AI to understand users on a profound level raises questions about the potential reshaping of society and consumer behavior. Despite ongoing regulatory initiatives, including the FTC’s focus on “commercial surveillance” and the CFPB’s efforts to rein in data brokers, AI and privacy remain complex issues.

Consumers have always had options to enhance privacy, but practical considerations often lead them to accept the tradeoffs. Bard extensions are expected to become more personalized, integrating further with the online shopping experience. While offering conveniences like automated form-filling and shipment tracking, the potential risks include unauthorized access to personal and financial information. Tal Zamir emphasizes the need for consumers to prioritize privacy and exercise caution before fully embracing AI-powered tools like Bard.

Addressing Privacy Concerns Amid AI’s Ongoing Evolution

As generative AI continues its evolution, privacy concerns persist, prompting discussions about the balance between innovation and safeguarding user data. While companies like Google emphasize user control over privacy settings, the underlying risks of unauthorized access and potential misuse remain.

The evolving landscape of AI and privacy requires a nuanced approach, acknowledging both the benefits and potential consequences.

The Regulatory Landscape: A Critical Juncture for AI and Privacy

Regulators are actively addressing privacy concerns associated with AI. The FTC’s “commercial surveillance” rulemaking process and the CFPB’s proposals indicate a recognition of the need for oversight. However, Jeff Chester suggests that despite these efforts, AI and privacy have not received the attention they deserve.

The potential rewiring of society by AI and its persuasive capabilities underscore the critical need for robust regulatory frameworks to ensure responsible AI deployment.

The Consumer Dilemma: Tradeoffs and Acceptance in the Digital Age

The digital age has conditioned consumers to accept tradeoffs between convenience and privacy. While options like cookie removal and privacy-aware browsers exist, practical considerations often lead individuals to embrace the benefits offered by AI tools. Jeff Chester likens this acceptance to the “original sin of the internet,” highlighting the challenge of repenting digital sins when convenience and discounts are at stake.

Bard’s Future: Personalization vs. Privacy

The trajectory of Bard extensions points towards increased personalization, tightly integrated with the online shopping experience. While promising streamlined processes like automatic form-filling and shipment tracking, the potential risks demand careful consideration. Users are urged to exercise caution, prioritizing privacy over convenience when evaluating and adopting AI-powered tools like Bard.

For Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization — who has been tracking the internet from a consumer privacy standpoint since the 1990s — the latest AI is an extension of a business model that has more or less been the same for decades. Clearly, AI has a host of positive implications, Chester said, in health innovation, for example.

“But basically, it’s just another shattering of the glass in terms of privacy and identity and autonomy,” he added. And its powers of persuasion make a focus on the consumer tradeoffs even more critical. Implicit in the corporate view that AI will understand you better than ever before is a potential rewiring of society, “and what you buy and consume,” he said. 

In the case of Google, some old privacy scores have just been settled. Regulators continue new work on the underlying issues — on a broad scale. The FTC started a “commercial surveillance” rulemaking process in late 2022, with an update expected in the first quarter of 2024. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is proposing rules to rein in data brokers. President Biden’s executive order on AI also calls on regulators to act.

But Chester, who speaks directly with FTC officials, and describes the current leadership as notable for being “privacy forward,” says that despite the significant regulatory promise of the FTC and CFPB efforts, AI and privacy has not yet been “on the map” in the way it should be.

“I don’t look at it as a new innovative approach but a continued evolution in the interests of companies and advertisers to know exactly who you are, and what you are doing,” Chester said. “AI will up the ante on all of it.”

Consumers have always had options — such as removal of cookies, privacy-aware browsers — but practically speaking, most individuals accept what they get in return for sharing. “It’s the original sin of the internet and it’s too late to repent all digital sinners,” Chester said. “Who is going to say, ’I don’t want my supermarket to have data, so I don’t get discounts? Or Waze, so I don’t know where the pharmacy is?” Chester said.

Bard extensions are expected to become even more personalized and integrated with the online shopping experience, according to Zamir, including automatically filling out checkout forms, tracking shipments, and comparing prices automatically. All of this entails risk, he said, from unauthorized access to personal and financial information during the automated form-filling process, malicious interception of real-time tracking information, and even potential manipulation of price comparison data.

FAQ

1. How does generative AI impact the future of travel planning?

Generative AI, exemplified by Google’s Bard, is transforming travel planning from a behind-the-scenes efficiency driver to a consumer-facing intelligent concierge. It personalizes the travel experience, offering instant translation, adaptive content, and on-the-go assistance.

2. What concerns arise with the increasing use of AI in daily life?

As AI becomes deeply integrated into daily life, concerns about consumer privacy intensify. The potential for unauthorized access and misuse, particularly in tools like Bard, raises security risks, prompting the need for users to balance convenience with data protection measures.

3. How is AI evolving in online experiences beyond search algorithms?

AI’s role in online experiences goes beyond search algorithms, with tools like Bard positioned as creative collaborators. This evolution marks a shift towards “zero click” search results and personalized assistance in various projects.

Regulators, including the FTC and CFPB, are actively addressing privacy concerns associated with AI. Initiatives like the “commercial surveillance” rulemaking process and proposals to rein in data brokers indicate a growing recognition of the need for oversight.

5. What is the interplay between AI, privacy, and consumer tradeoffs?

The positive implications of AI, such as health innovation, coexist with concerns about privacy and potential societal reshaping. Consumers face tradeoffs between embracing the benefits offered by AI tools and safeguarding their privacy.

6. How are consumers navigating the tradeoffs between convenience and privacy in the digital age?

Consumers in the digital age often accept tradeoffs between convenience and privacy. Despite options like cookie removal and privacy-aware browsers, practical considerations lead individuals to embrace the benefits offered by AI tools.

7. What considerations should users have regarding the future of Bard extensions?

As Bard extensions become more personalized and integrated with the online shopping experience, users are advised to weigh the benefits against potential risks. The evolving landscape demands caution and prioritization of privacy before fully embracing AI-powered tools like Bard.

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