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Voice Assistants and Consumer Data Privacy

As voice assistants reach more homes, corporate social responsibility and data privacy play a bigger role. Learn more here.

JULY 31, 2018

As voice assistants like Siri, Alexa and Google Home continue to play ever more prominent roles in the lives of consumers, privacy concerns around the capabilities of these voice assistants are taking hold. These devices are permeating our homes at an astronomical rate. Despite leveling off in the smart speaker market in North America, Omdia reports an estimated 190 million smear speakers shipped globally in 2021.

It’s clear that we’re moving into a voice-dominated society. With this approach to interacting with technology, companies need to prioritize corporate social responsibility to establish trust amongst its customers and protect their rights to privacy and freedom of speech. Applications of voice-first technology can be ethically malleable in nature, meaning tech companies can sway easily into murky, corrupt territories when it comes to these devices. That’s why the brunt of responsibility falls solely on corporations to ensure they’re developed and designed in a human-centered way that prioritizes and protects the customer and their data first and foremost.

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Are the Billions Being Heard?

The latest data shows there are 4.2 billion digital voice assistants worldwide, with Siri and Google Assistant having a 36% share of users.

Despite the success companies need to vigilantly take stock of the limitations of voice-first technologies. This cognizance goes a long way toward preparing companies for any potential hacks or nefarious uses of voice assistants. Only then can companies map a strategy for how to protect customers should the worst-case scenario occur. And make no mistake, the odds are ever in a hacker’s favor. Cybersecurity isn’t a hot topic in tech just because; with more connected devices infiltrating our lives, these days a hack is usually a matter of when, not if.

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This is a particularly relevant concern for voice assistants and devices, especially those with an always-on microphone that are actively listening to customers without explicitly being in use. Why are these devices always listening? What are they doing with the information they overhear? Are customers being recorded, and if so, for what purpose? These are some of the most pressing questions arising from voice assistants and ones that companies need to be wholly transparent about answering. The common response is that these devices can respond more accurately through active listening that’s bolstered by machine learning, and while that’s all fine and dandy, consumers have a right to know if they’re being recorded and what’s being done with the information these devices are logging.

It Starts with Transparency

Full transparency should be at the foundation of any company looking to embody corporate social responsibility. Even if the voice technologies a company develops are hacked or misused, a company that is completely forthcoming about the intricacies of its products and can establish trust amongst its customers can easily come out on the positive end of consumer sentiment. 

Companies should also keep a design thinking approach in play while developing voice-first products with customer experience and their privacy as the utmost consideration. Cybersecurity breaches are bound to happen with almost any device, but corporations that make it a point to be socially responsible can lessen the negative impact and remain a reliable, trusted voice in this sector.

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