Consumer perceptions of surveillance activity of Alexa vs. Google Home vs. Siri

Voice assistants (aka smart speakers) are becoming increasingly popular. For instance, by the end of 2017, one in six US adults owned a smart speaker (e.g., Alexa or Google Home), a number that is expected to grow by 50% during 2018. This represents an adoption rate much faster than that for smartphones or the Internet. And, of course, consumers can also use voice assistants on their homes (e.g., Siri), meaning that the actual penetration of this technology is very broad, indeed.

 

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As such, it is not surprising to see companies investing in this space. For instance, you can now use your Alexa or Google Home to order your groceries from Tesco. And you can check whether your car tax or MOT are due by asking trusty Alexa.

 

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But if marketers are going to invest in voice assistants, they need to understand consumer behaviour on these platforms. For instance, in relation to groceries shopping, Tesco’s Director Online Business Services, Rafael Orta, reported that buyers use the website and the smart speaker in markedly different ways. In the latter, customers add items to a list over several days, before ordering.

 

PridmoreConsumer behaviour may also differ across platforms. Jason Pridmore, Assistant Professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam, is conducting some very interesting research in this space. While presenting some early results from that project at the Big Data Surveillance workshop, in Stirling, in early June 2018, Pridmore observed that while all voice assistants are data producing devices, the companies behind these products have very different business strategies. Furthermore, these shape consumers’ perception of extent and approach to data collection from these devices which, in turn, can influence how users manage their privacy settings.

 

For instance, users are aware that Alexa belongs to Amazon, which is, ultimately, interested in delivering more effective product recommendations. Alexa’s ultimate goal, when informing you of the weather, is to sell you an umbrella. In turn, Google Home is part of the Alphabet family, which doesn’t have a range of products to push. Instead, they are interested in serving you ads that will resonate with you. So, users, perceive that Google Home will pursue a very aggressive listening and data collection strategy – “spying on you all the time”, as expressed by one of the participants in the study. On the other hand, Siri, which is developed by Apple, is seen to be focused on lifestyle and entertainment. As Apple’s business model is not based around selling data, Siri is deemed by these customers to not be aggressively listening in to users, and to have better privacy protection practices than either Google or Amazon.

 

These different perceptions, then, led to very different approaches regarding where to use the voice assistant, how, whether to physically switch it off, and so on. Fascinating.

 

As far as I understand, there are no published outputs from this research, yet. But, if you are interested, you may want to follow Jason Pridmore on Twitter. His handle is @ConsumerSurv.

 

Do your perceptions of Amazon vs Google vs Siri impact on your decision whether to use (or how to use) voice assistants?

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