George Mason University

News at Mason

AI researcher: Using internet-connected home speakers is like paying someone to bug your house

June 9, 2017

Using Apple’s new home speaker, HomePod, is just another way consumers will relinquish their privacy, a George Mason University professor said.

“I own a speaker like this, and as a friend of mine succinctly put it, I bugged my house, and I paid for it,” said researcher Ewart de Visser of George Mason’s Human Factors and Applied Cognition Program. He recently authored a paper on oxytocin, a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain, and its relation to building trust in human-like automation.

“I think privacy is a thing of the past with these devices, despite Amazon making a nice, prominent mute button on the top of it to make me feel better,” he said.

Overall, artificial intelligence is a good and exciting development, but it is a trade-off between convenience and privacy, de Visser said. After all, convenience is immensely improved; lights and televisions can be turned on or off and you can order food and a ride from Uber with just your voice.

“Of course, this comes at the cost of my privacy,” he said. “All these companies have a vast interest in collecting our data. This is an essential part of their future viability.”

By collecting more data, companies like Google and Apple improve their algorithms, making them more useful to the consumer, so the consumer can use them more. That continues the data collection cycle.

How data are used by tech giants needs to be assessed, and regulations may need to be put in place, de Visser said, adding that human dependence on technology will increase and our roles will change.

“Instead of manually doing things, I now become more of a monitor or supervisor and—in case technology does not work—a repair man,” he said. “With the increase of complexity, the size of our problem, when the technology fails, also increases.”

Ewart de Visser is the principal investigator at Mason’s Trustworthy and Mindful Automation (TRUMAN) Lab. He can be reached at 

For more information contact, Jamie Rogers at 703-9935118 or

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.