Are virtual assistants helping themselves to your data?

Recent headlines have highlighted how gremlins in Voice technology can led to surprising results. And our own research shows how technology users are responding to these events.

You’ll have seen the news story: an Oregon couple are having an everyday conversation about hardwood flooring. This is mysteriously recorded by their Echo Alexa device and then sent to a random number in their address book without their permission.

They were none-the-wiser ‘til the colleague who received the message phoned them to say ‘you’ve been hacked’.

This story sparked all sorts of comments about Amazon’s privacy policy and attitudes to invasion of privacy.

Amazon’s damage limitation strategy dismissed the events as a “rare occurrence”. But this just agitated the online whispers worrying about rumoured patent applications for algorithms which analyse what owners say they ‘love’ or ‘bought’ - with the data gathered used to serve highly targeted ads.

Others argue that the tech just isn’t there currently. That its capacity is being over-advertised. And that domestic Voice assistants simply don’t have the processing power or storage space to carry out the surveillance they’re being accused of.

These reassurances are met with a dubious ‘Are you sure?’ With naysayers wondering anyone would ever consider strategically positioning internet-connected microphones all over the home.

Do people trust Voice technology?

What our research tell us

We recently conducted a survey of 1000 Voice technology users. It certainly seems many of them have trust issues:

• 1 in 5 Voice assistant users worry about the data their device is collecting

• 40% wouldn’t be surprised to discover their Voice assistant was listening to, and storing, ALL of their private conversations

• A massive 80% would be concerned if their Voice assistants were listening to, and storing, private conversations to make the information they provide more relevant and targeted.

Who’s on the other end of the line?

It’s not just Voice technology listening in on us which worries some people.

There are also ethical issues about humans being duped into having conversations with Voice AI.

This Google presentation drew gasps from the audience. But provoked a less appreciative response from its online viewers.

So much so that google have announced they will add an automatic notification before the conversation begins.

This is just another case where one person’s technological utopia is another’s nightmare dystopia.

The only thing which everyone can agree on is that, as Voice technology does become more sophisticated and truly AI, this topic will rumble on.


Our survey reveals that Product Thinking is helping organisations become more digitally effective