Are Digital Assistants Always Listening?

Are Digital Assistants Always Listening?

Written by / Courtesy of Forbes

Digital assistants are popping up everywhere. From Amazon Alexa to Google Home and Apple HomePod, more and more people have smart devices in their homes, right next to where they discuss much about their lives, preferences, and plans. It gives companies an opportunity to listen to their customers, which has led to an overarching belief that companies really are listening through their digital assistant devices and potentially blurring privacy lines.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were discussing a kitchen gadget called the sous vide with our neighbors. It was a quick conversation and we didn’t think much of it until the next day when we started seeing ads on Amazon for a sous vide. We actually ended up buying the product, but we couldn’t help but wonder—was it a coincidence, or was Alexa listening to a private conversation we had in our kitchen?

It’s a common concern for consumers. After all, things you search on your computer often end up in internet ads, so why wouldn’t things you say and talk about also end up there? If I search for Airbnb rentals in New Orleans, I’ll likely soon see an ad for Airbnb rentals on my Facebook feed. As digital assistants grow, consumers may assume that transferring private conversations to ads is the natural progression of personalized advertising. But where is the line between a private conversation and what is fodder for companies?

Even if companies aren’t actually listening in on conversations, most customers think they are. Lots of people fear that companies like Amazon, Apple, or their internet or phone providers are always listening and pulling data from private conversations. Most companies claim that digital assistants only start recording after the “wake word” such as “Ok Google” or “Hey Alexa”, but not everyone is convinced. A recent survey found that 27% of Americans don’t use voice assistants because of privacy concerns. That means companies are missing out on a large group of customers because they aren’t clear about how they collect and use data.

The answer to this epidemic of mistrust is transparency. All companies need to have messaging ready to explain to customers what they do with private data. Customers care about how companies use their data and would love to get an answer from companies of where that data ends up. In most cases, the issue isn’t whether or not digital assistants are listening, but rather what they are doing with that information. Many large companies have shown that they aren’t collecting data, but others have yet to make a statement, which can make customers assume the worst. The key is carefully handling personal data and being transparent and honest about what is happening with that data.

Digital assistants are the future, and we’ll likely see more of these types of devices in other areas of our homes soon. Now is the time for companies to set the record straight about what they actually listen to so customers can know who to trust.

Read the original article over at Forbes.