The Future of Privacy Forum and EY Examine Speech Recognition and Smart Devices in New Paper


Microphone enabled devices


April 28, 2016

Contact: Melanie Bates, Director of Communications, [email protected]




Washington, DC – Today, the Future of Privacy Forum (FPF), in collaboration with Ernst & Young LLP, released Always On: Privacy Implications of Microphone-Enabled Devices, a new paper that explores how speech recognition technology fits into a broader scheme of “always listening” technologies. The paper identifies emerging practices by which manufacturers and developers can alleviate privacy concerns and build consumer trust in the ways that data is collected, stored, and analyzed.

Is your Smart TV listening to your conversations? Are your children’s toys spying on your family? These types of questions are increasingly raised as the next generation of internet-connected devices enter the market.

“While we work to ensure that the appropriate privacy protections are in place, it is important to remember that the benefits of speech recognition are undeniable,” said Jules Polonetsky, CEO, FPF. “Hands-free control of technology improves the lives of people with physical disabilities, makes healthcare and other professional services more efficient through accurate voice dictation, enhances automobile safety, and makes everyday tasks more convenient.”

“Increasingly ‘smart’ devices challenge the product development lifecycle,” said Sagi Leizerov, an Executive Director with Ernst & Young LLP and EY’s Global Privacy leader. “The implications of new features, how those features should be made known to impacted individuals, the decision of what the default setting should be and what privacy controls should be provided, are at the heart of building trust when adopting additional ‘Internet of Things’ solutions in the daily lives of consumers.”

FPF and EY conclude that the colloquial term “always on” is often not an effective way to describe the range of technologies that use audio and video recording hardware. Instead, three general categories of microphone-enabled devices are proposed:

(1)  manually activated (requiring a press of a button, a flip of a switch, or other intentional physical action);

(2)  speech activated (requiring a spoken “wake phrase”); and

(3)  always on devices (devices, such as home security cameras, that are designed to constantly transmit data, including devices that “buffer” to allow the user to capture only the most recent period of time).

“Ultimately, companies should keep consumers’ expectations in mind when designing the default frameworks of a device,” said Stacey Gray, Legal and Policy Fellow, FPF. “Our expectations will evolve more quickly in some areas than others, and so the manufacturers of devices that are introducing microphones for the first time—like televisions and toys—should go the extra distance to provide additional transparency and in many cases greater levels of control and choice.”



The Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) is a Washington, DC based think tank that seeks to advance responsible data practices. FPF includes an advisory board comprised of leading figures from industry, academia, law and advocacy groups. Learn more about FPF’s work by visiting