Brisbane City Council linking to Google Home, Alexa raises privacy concerns

BRISBANE City Council is planning to link its website to smart speaker devices such as Google Home and Alexa in a move that has raised privacy concerns from the Opposition.

The council is currently trailing the service internally, with plans to expand it to the broader public, allowing residents to link their devices to the council website and its data sets to ask questions about their services.

But the council insists it won’t collect any data from the trial, saying it is all about improving the way it communicates with residents about important information.

The council also says that only location data will be used during any interaction with residents, but only with the user’s consent.

Questions asked through the platform could be about when the next bin night is or what events council is holding over the weekend.

Finance and Administration chair Adam Allan rejected suggestions that the program would collect any data, suggesting the move was about “improving customer experience for residents”.

“Brisbane City Council will not collect any data from this trial and can reassure residents that any data used as part of this trial is publicly available on council’s website,” he said.

“This trial is currently internal with no set date for public trials at this stage.”

Council Opposition Leader Jared Cassidy said that any use of metadata by council needed to be governed by the “strictest guidelines”.

“This technology will allow council to build a profile on an individual, so demands the strictest level of security to ensure it isn’t exploited for political purposes,” he said.

The council currently wants to have the service available for smart speakers such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa. In the future though, the council could extend the listening services to other ­technology such as Siri on Apple devices and Bixby on Samsung devices.

The council estimates about 9 per cent of households own a smart speaker and expects strong growth in the future.

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