Privacy Tip #280 – Using Biometric Information for Payments and Services

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Many individuals already use facial recognition technology to authenticate and authorize payment through their smartphone. According to Jupiter Research, by 2025 (only four years away), 95 percent of smartphones will have biometric technology capabilities for authentication, including face, fingerprint, iris, and voice recognition. According to Juniper Research, this will amount to the authentication of over $3 trillion in payment transactions on a yearly basis.

Technology vendors are starting to use biometric information more and more to provide services to consumers. For instance, Spotify recently released its “Hey Spotify” feature for its app. If you use Spotify, and the new feature is rolled out to your device, you will see a pop-up with a big green button at the bottom that reads, “Turn on Hey Spotify” and a very small link in white that reads, “Maybe later.” Above the big green button in white is text that reads, “LEARN HOW WE USE VOICE DATA” and “When we hear ‘Hey Spotify’ your voice input and other information will be sent to Spotify.”

The big green button is very noticeable and the white text less so, but when you click on the “LEARN HOW” button, you are sent to a link that reads, “When you use voice features, your voice input and other information will be sent to Spotify.” Hmmm. What other information?

It continues, “This includes audio recording and transcripts of what you say, and other related information such as the content that was returned to you by Spotify.” This means that your biometric information–your voice–and what you actually say to Hey Spotify is collected by Spotify. Spoiler alert: you only have one voice and you are giving it to an app that is collecting it and sharing it with others, including unknown third parties.

The Spotify terms then explain that it will use your voice, audio recordings, transcripts and the other information that is collected “to help us provide you with advertising that is more relevant to you. It also includes sharing information, from time to time, with our service providers, such as cloud storage providers.” It then explains that you can “interact with advertisements on Spotify using your voice. During a voice-enabled ad, you will hear a voice prompt followed by an audible tone.” Of course, you should know that your response will then be recorded, collected, and shared.

In response to the question “Is Spotify recording all of my conversations?,” the terms state that “Spotify listens in short snippets of a few seconds which are deleted if the wake-word is not detected.” That means that it is listening frequently until you say, “Hey Spotify.” It doesn’t say how often the short snippets occur.

Consumers can turn off the voice controls and voice ads by disabling their microphone. This is true for all apps that include access to the microphone, which is why it is important to frequently look at your privacy settings and see which apps have access to your microphone and to manage that capability (along with all of the apps in your privacy settings).

It is important to know which apps have access to your biometric information and who they share it with, as you cannot manage that biometric information once you give it away. You don’t know how they are really using it, or how they are storing, securing, disclosing, or retaining it. Think about your Social Security number and how many times you have received a breach notification letter. You can try to protect your credit and your identity with credit monitoring and credit freezes, but you can’t use those tools for the disclosure of your biometric information to scammers and fraudsters.

Your voice can be used for fraudulent purposes. It can be used for authentication to get into accounts, and for vishing (see blog post on vishing here). Your voice is unique and sharing it with apps or others without knowing how it is secured is something worth considering. If the information is not secured and is subject to a security incident, it gives criminals another very potent tool to commit fraud against you and others.

Before providing your biometric information to any app, or anyone else for that matter, read the Privacy Policy and Terms of Use and understand what you are giving away merely for the convenience of using the app.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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