14 May 2019

Javier Maquieira

14 May 2019

Good morning,
And hello to you, Siri, Cortana, Alexa… I know you’re listening.
After months of spotting personalised ads for content that I know I haven’t searched for, I reckon that there’s something fishy about voice assistants. And it’s not only me.
Questions about whether smart speakers are digitally spying on us have become so widespread that they already qualify as small talk. As it happens, a recent report by Microsoft Market Intelligence has found that 41% of voice assistant users are worried about trust and privacy, with data security and passive listening being their top concerns.
But are they really listening to our conversations all the time?
Amazon has insisted that voice assistants like Alexa are more simple-minded than users tend to think and only listen for “wake words”, sending what follows to the cloud as an audio clip, which is then stored and can be assessed by humans for machine-learning purposes.
Similarly, Google has said that both the audio and text entries in its devices are deleted when a person removes the voice assistant data, while Apple’s Siri recordings are allegedly never associated with the user and are tied to a random identifier that can be deleted.
However compelling these claims may be, a group of consumers and privacy advocates in the US filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission last week after noting that Amazon’s Echo Dot, its first kid-oriented voice assistant, was keeping children’s data even after parents deleted the voice recordings.
Now, these hands-free devices are incorporating new features – or senses – such as cameras and sensors to detect human gestures, which is set to make existing privacy concerns even worse.
In spite of fears over snoopy listening and privacy breaches, the convenience of voice assistants for both tech companies and users is proven by sales and investment predictions, with smart speakers expected to overtake tablets by 2021.


A major new 5-year study has been launched under Nobel prize winning economist Sir Angus Deaton. Working with the Institute for Fiscal Studies it will examine the growing inequalities within the UK and the threat posed to the economic, social and democratic system. “In the decade since the financial crisis, the overall squeeze on living standards has brought these inequalities into sharper focus. Technological change and globalisation threaten settled ways of life. Some have placed the surge in populism and the demise of established centre-ground political parties at the feet of growing inequality and a greater sense of economic insecurity.”
Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly facing pressure from senior members of the Conservative party to abandon Brexit deal talks with Labour. With both sides of the table due to take stock of the negotiation today, Tories like Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab have warned against any agreement involving a customs union. In the meantime, Olly Robbins, the PM’s Brexit negotiator, is in Brussels for talks with EU officials on whether the political declaration could be modified to break the deadlock.
Swedish authorities decided to reopen sexual assault allegations against Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange at the request of lawyers representing one of his alleged victims. Prosecutors now have 15 months to launch a case against him before the alleged offence expires. Mr Assange, who is serving a 50-week sentence in Belmarsh prison after being ejected from the Ecuadorean embassy in London last month, is also facing hacking charges by the US, which could lead to an extradition battle between Swedish and American authorities (£).
The United Arab Emirates reported a “sabotage attack” after four vessels were targeted on Sunday while approaching the Strait of Hormuz, off the strategic Emirati port of Fujairah. Two were oil tankers owned by Saudi Arabia, which described the acts as a threat to global oil supplies, while the other two were from the UAE and Norway. Those responsible for the incident are still unknown, but no injuries or deaths have been reported. The oil-rich region has seen tensions rise in recent weeks after the US deployed an increasing number of military assets to the area as relations with Iran deteriorated.

Business & Economy

China announced yesterday a tariff raise on $60bn worth of US goods after the Trump administration more than doubled its levies on $200bn of Chinese imports to 25% on Friday. President Donald Trump, who has been accused of promoting US unilateralism and trade protectionism by China, threatened to hit a further $300 billion with the same tariff rate if a trade negotiation was not reached, warning that the Chinese economy would be “hurt very badly” (£).
Honda plans to close its UK plant in Swindon by 2021, with 3,500 staff set to lose their jobs. The Japanese car manufacturer confirmed to its employees that the decision was taken as viable alternatives to closure were not found after “meaningful and robust” consultation. The Swindon factory is Honda’s only manufacturing presence in the UK and is expected to close in 2021, which marks the end of the current civil model’s production lifecycle.
WhatsApp confirmed that a vulnerability allowed hackers to install spyware on the messaging app, with the number of users affected by a surveillance attack still unclear. WhatsApp owner Facebook said it fixed the problem but urged users to upgrade to the latest version of the app. Although responsibility for the cyberattack is unknown, some have pointed to a private firm working with governments to provide spyware.


What happened yesterday?
Global markets plunged further amid continued US-China trade tensions. London closed in the red, with the FTSE 100 down 0.55% at 7,163.68, while the pound was weaker against both the dollar by 0.37% at $1.29533 and the euro by 0.41% at €1.1529.
British stocks were also affected by increasing concern over Prime Minister Theresa May’s ability to stay in power after signs of failure in cross-party Brexit talks, and polls pointing to a Conservative collapse in next week’s European elections.
In equity markets, Vodafone (down 5.19%) was the stand-out loser after The Sunday Times published an article suggesting that the firm plans to slash its dividend in order to invest in next-generation 5G mobile networks and to tackle its €32 billion debt pile. Metro Bank stocks (down 10.97%) dropped despite efforts to shut down social media rumours questioning the challenger bank’s financial health.
Among the risers, British Gas owner Centrica (up 3.02%) maintained its full-year guidance on cash flow and net debt in spite of a "challenging" environment, with falling UK natural gas prices. The stocks of miners Royal Dutch Shell (up 0.87%) and BP (up 0.40%) went up as oil prices rose after Saudia Arabia reported two of its oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.
Across the Atlantic, Wall Street is suffering its worst week of 2019, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq down 2.4% and 3.4% respectively after China announced retaliatory tariffs against the US. Boeing (down 4.9%) fell after Chinese media reported that Beijing could reduce orders from the manufacturer.

Braemar Shipping Services
Great Eastern Energy Corp Ltd. GDR
Land Securities Group
Premier Foods
EI Group
ITE Group
On The Beach Group
Stock Spirits Group    

UK Economic Announcements
(09:30) Claimant Count Rate
Int. Economic Announcements
(07:00) Consumer Price Index (GER)
(10:00) Industrial Production (EU)
(10:00) ZEW Survey (EU) - Economic Sentiment
(10:00) ZEW Survey (GER) - Current Situation
(10:00) ZEW Survey (GER) - Economic Sentiment
(13:30) Import and Export Price Indices (US)

Columns of Note

In The TelegraphDavid Attenborough warns against the lethal and devastating effect of plastic on wildlife and humans, with one person dying every 30 seconds because of waste mismanagement. This affects most negatively the world’s poorest in developing countries, where the lack of waste collection has led to rubbish accumulation and the consequent proliferation of rats, flies, and disease-carrying mosquitoes. While many communities resort to waste burning, which is increasing air pollution, plastic packaging in these countries is growing at an alarming rate. Attenborough concludes that collective action can solve this global pressure on the planet by introducing a more circular model of plastic production (£).
Writing in The TimesClare Foges draws attention to the lack of support experienced by new mothers in the UK, with around 10-20% affected by a mental disorder in the first year after childbirth. She suggests extending maternity stays, investing in early years support, and re-establishing the Sure Start centres programme in order to ameliorate the situation of more disadvantaged mothers. Foges concludes that failing to support those making the decision to have a child is counter-productive for the British economy (£).

Did you know?

Tongue prints, like fingerprints, are unique.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons
Oral questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (including Topical Questions)
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Hares Preservation - George Eustice
Opposition Day Debate
Prisons and probation - Jeremy Corbyn, Richard Burgon, Ms Diane Abbott, Yasmin Qureshi, Valerie Vaz, Mr Nicholas Brown
Health and local public health cuts
Crime and antisocial behaviour in Stockton South - Dr Paul Williams
House of Lords
Oral questions
Ensuring all police forces have the requisite training on stalking to prevent women and girls being murdered or taking their own lives - Baroness Royall of Blaisdon
Will the Government offer EU exporters continuing free trade under the auspices of the WTO and EU citizens continued reciprocal residence rights for a period to be agreed - Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Deployment of the Internet Engineering Task Force’s new “DNS over HTTPS” protocol and its implications for the blocking of content by internet service providers and the Internet Watch Foundation - Baroness Thornton
Report by the National Audit Office 'Progress delivering the Emergency Services Network' - Lord Hogan-Howe
Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [HL] – Second reading - Lord Keen of Elie
Short debate
Improving the educational experience and attainment of adopted children, including those adopted from abroad. - Lord Triesman
Scottish Parliament
Time for Reflection 
Reverend Alan Sorensen, Minister, Wellpark Mid Kirk, Greenock
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Topical Questions (if selected)
Ministerial Statement 
The Global Climate Emergency: Scotland’s Response
Ministerial Statement 
Supporting Sheep Farming in Scotland
Scottish Government Debate 
Place Principle
Committee Announcements
Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee - Report on the Planning (Scotland) Bill as amended at Stage 2
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Decision Time
Members' Business
S5M-16374 Jenny Gilruth: Home Start Glenrothes Turns 21
House of Commons
Oral questions
Prime Minister's Question Time
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Trade Union (Access to Workplaces) - Faisal Rashid
To approve a Statutory Instrument relating to the draft Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (Further Implementation Etc.) Regulations 2019
General debate
Serious violence - Mrs Theresa May
Services at the Alexandra Hospital - Rachel Maclean
House of Lords
Oral questions
Timetable for the recently proposed consultation to end no fault evictions - Baroness Thornhill
Government discussions with the UK’s creative industries about future access to European markets - Baroness Quin
Criteria used to determine the suitability of candidates for the position of chair of Wilton Park - Baroness Prosser
Report from the EU Committee 'Brexit: movement of people in the cultural sector' - Lord Jay of Ewelme
Report from the European Union Committee 'Brexit: Common Security and Defence Policy missions and operations' - Baroness Verma
Report from the European Union Committee 'Brexit: plant and animal biosecurity' - Lord Teverson
Scottish Parliament
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Portfolio Questions
Scottish Liberal Democrat Debate: Health
Scottish Liberal Democrat Debate: Education
Parliamentary Bureau Motions
Decision Time
Members' Business
S5M-17102 Kezia Dugdale: Foster Care Fortnight 2019