Google’s New Feature Worries Students and Faculty

 

Photo credit Google
Photo credit Google

BY ASHLEY OLIVER

Google’s new Smart Reply feature for mobile devices have some CUNY students and faculty concerned about the privacy and security of their personal data.

With just two taps, the intuitive app can reply to an-email. Smart Reply, which was unveiled on Nov. 5,  uses deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence that can read emails, analyze them and generate a response each consumer is most likely to use. To do this, the app also scans e-mails consumers have sent prior to downloading the app. However, Google’s 2015 Privacy Policy states that a computer reads all e-mails and their employees have no access to confidential information

“There is no privacy on the Internet,” said Michael Smith, an Assistant Professor of Communications Technology at York. “Google has cookies that know all your online habits, can predict products you’re interested in, and this app is just taking it a step further.”

Some students believe the feature is a way for the company to monitor conversations and collect data on the consumer and the recipient of the message.

“Humans control the machine and operate the system that Google says supposedly only reads the emails,” said 26-year old York College Communications Technology major, Jayson Jones. “Where it seems harmless, the power and information people are giving into these companies are ridiculous. That shit is too intrusive.”

        18-year old Math major at York College, Jason Whea believes Smart Reply not only controls its consumers data, but the recipients data, too.

        “Google is keeping tabs on people,” said Whea. “They have access to almost everyone in the world because I’m sure most people use Google to search. I don’t even think you have to download the app for them to get more about you, once one person has it, they know what you said.”

        But 19-year old Baruch College Chemistry major Alan Ng believes the app was created to track possible terrorist threats.

        “America is obsessed with terrorism,” said Ng. “That’s how they make their money, and that’s what privacy businesses thrive on now. The feature only reads important sentences, so I’m sure it looks out for keywords that are related to war or attacking America.”

        While some students believe Smart Reply is too intrusive, others think Google is simply trying to make interacting online easier.

        “Social media does the same thing,” said 21-year old Queensborough Community College Biology major Sunita Toolsee. “Our information is already out there, so I don’t see what the big deal is if they read our e-mails. They probably already did before the app.”

        20-year old Brooklyn College Pre-Law major Rebecca Rivera said downloading Smart Reply might help prevent malware on mobile devices.

        “I have the app and I know it is secure,” said Rivera. “The program is reading your emails before you open it. So if you get spam emails, it will notify you. I’d rather a machine know, than me opening it and a virus getting on my phone.”

        However, Jones of York College advises consumers to make a separate email account to avoid possible safety breaches.

        “Google has been hacked before and it can be hacked again,” he said. “If someone downloads the app, I wouldn’t have important messages being sent to my gmail because I wouldn’t want a machine to predict human emotion for me to the wrong person.”

        Jones also implicates the importance of carefully reading the updates on Google’s Privacy Policy.

        The app can be downloaded in Google Play Store or the App Store for $0.99. In addition to this futuristic feature, Google is creating another app called TensorFlow, to add capabilities like speech recognition and object detection to Smart Reply, according to TensorFlow.com.

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