The Battle of Privacy: Snips Founder Wants to Take on the Likes of Google and Alexa Using Blockchain
Cybersecurity remains one of the most pressing topics in the world of technology, and it's one that has landed in the laps of the public with a number of exclamation marks attached. If we collectively recall early last year the headlines announcing that both popular voice assistants Alexa and Siri were facing some pretty disturbing issues when the data of their respective owners was compromised and, in some cases, sent to completely random people.
In May 2018, it was announced how Amazon's own Alexa system secretly recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random person, breaching a number of laws in the process. While the company reiterates that its Echo devices are not constantly recording, how else would something like that happen if they weren't?
While these represent major cause celebre in contrast to the wider online world, they represent a topic that is only going to become a more frequent and far more discussed topic as the years go by.
What makes these voice control devices even more disconcerting is the fact that Amazon has launched a bespoke Alexa system for the hospitality industry, with the devices being put to use in hotels in June. While it's a unique application, it provides a deeply concerning trend in the future, especially as these systems continue to demonstrate flaws in their software.
So one question is this: is there a solution to these issues surrounding privacy? Well the French-based company, Snips believes that it has an answer to the joint issues of cybersecurity and data privacy. It's own system runs as an independent entity from the cloud, opting instead to run 100% on-device.
The end result of this method? User data is processed on the device itself, offering a profoundly stronger level of security, and a potentially stronger guarantor of privacy. Unlike its rivals Snips knows nothing about its end users because of this system.
It's personal take on this system is one that is certainly attracting attention, and investors are no exception. As of right now, Snips has managed to raise €22 million in venture captial from the likes of MAIF Avenir, Korelya Capital, BPI France and Eniac Ventures. First established in 2013 by 3 PhD graduates, it has since grown exponentially and now employs 60 people in both Paris and New York Snips offers its voice assistant technology as a white-labelled solution for enterprise device manufacturers.
In order to see just how feasible its system is by publishing the result of a consumer poll. The survey demonstrated that, out of 410 people found that 66% of respondents stated that they would be concerned with using any kind of voice assistant in their hotel room due to concerns over privacy, while 90% said they would like to control and keep a grip over the ways in which corporations use their data, even if it means sacrificing convenience.
“Сonsumers are increasingly aware of the privacy concerns with voice assistants that rely on cloud storage — and that these concerns will actually impact their usage,” says Dr Rand Hindi, co-founder and CEO at Snips. “However, emerging technologies like blockchain are helping us to create safer and fairer alternatives for voice assistants.”
Blockchain is integral to the future of Snips as a company and rival to its bigger rivals. Hindi previously stated that the company will be releasing a new set of consumer services which are independent of its enterprise business. The underlying concept is to create a consumer business that will prompt a continued development of its enterprise.
By doing this, Snips will be able to issue a cryptographic token through a corresponding Initial Coin Offering in order to incentivize developers to improve the Snips platform, pushing it up as a safer alternative to using data from consumers. It's theorized that this will place Snips on the opposing side to the approach currently used by Google and Amazon, who have been continually criticized because of the previous invasions of privacy.
The founder of Snips believes that as voice-controlled devices become an increasingly commone feature in our daily lives, there could be a significant shift in public opinion about how their privacy is being protected.
Hindi has positioned the company and its new consumer product are well advanced, and will be developed from the beginning to be continually improved over time, while using a combination of decentralized machine learning and cryptography.
Through using blockchain technology in the storage and sharing of data, it will be able to train its network “without ever anybody sending unencrypted data anywhere.”
It's in the notion of ‘training the network' where the device gets interesting. By issuing a cryptographic token that developers can use, Hindi says that it will serve as an incentive for them to work on the platform, process data and improve the platform in a completely decentralized way. This has the company positioned in a really good place. According to the company, there are already 14,000 developers on the platform who will be further incentivized by a token economy.
“Otherwise people have no incentive to process that data in a decentralized fashion, right? We got into blockchain because we’re trying to find a way to get people to participate in decentralized machine learning. We’ve been wanting to get into consumer [devices] for a couple of years but didn’t really figure out the end goal because we had always had this missing element which was: how do you keep making it better over time.”
“This is the main argument for Google and Amazon to pretend that you need to send your data to them, to make the service better. If we can fix this [by using blockchain] then we can offer a real alternative to Alexa that guarantees Privacy by Design,” he says.
“We now have over 14000 developers building for us and that’s really completely organic growth, zero marketing, purely word of mouth, which is really nice because it shows that there’s a very big demand for decentralized voice assistance, effectively.”
While this may appear to be a higher risk strategy compared to its rivals. Launching a voice controlled device is all well and good on its own, but layering that with applications produced and developed within an ecosystem which fosters incentive through tokens, especially when crypto prices have entered a downward spell sounds great in theory, but whether it practically works is another.
It's certainly an interesting idea, but it's a matter of time whether or not this approach will work for Snips, and if it can deliver on all it hopes to provide.