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At-Home Assistants May Infringe on Privacy, But Do Consumers Care?

In case you haven’t noticed yet, at-home voice assistants have blown up and people haven’t been shy about welcoming them in their homes. Despite questions about privacy and security, consumers are poised to take advantage of all the convenient features voice assistants have to offer. This past holiday season, one of the most popular items out there was the Amazon Echo, which is accompanied by their patented Alexa voice-assistant. The Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Buttons all sold out last month, with Jeff Bezos claiming they “sold tens of millions.” Google Home didn’t do so bad either, selling roughly six million devices over the holidays.

Echo and Home users enjoy the simplicity of making a voice command to turn on the lights, lock the door, turn on the TV and even make purchases — among other things. The software is simple, and by all accounts the devices can only be accessed when a user says the unlock voice command: “Okay, Google” or “Alexa.” But where do all of your voice commands go after the fact?

The answer: they are all stored in a backend server.

This is the point of contention for many privacy pundits. Your voice data and information essentially floats around in a server until you decide to delete that information, which can be done manually. According to skeptics, this makes it a relative goldmine for internet hackers; not to mention Alexa and Google Home are known to be triggered without any help of the “unlock” command. Although mobile voice command functions, such as Siri for iPhone users, store your requests, and conversations for some, the potential risk of phone hacking, or laptop sabotage persists in the eyes of many consumers.

The threat of someone hacking your technology, be it your phone, laptop or voice assistant, has been a perennial one. In fact, it was recently uncovered that almost all Intel processors in the last decade are hindered by a major security flaw. Of course, these pressing issues should always be taken seriously because privacy is an issue that concerns all of us. But the fact remains, to most consumers, new technology, such as at-home voice assistants, are not a deal breaker when it comes to privacy.

The reality is that consumers want voice devices, and despite continuous push back from those worried with personal privacy, Alexa and Google Home are some of the hottest items on the market. Even though privacy issues continue to dwell on the minds of many consumers, there are measures being added to strengthen their concerns. Most notably the creation of biometrics. According to a study conducted by the Unisys Corporation, 71% of consumers in North America support the use of biometrics for ID verification. Furthermore, 32% of respondents checked off voice recognition as their preferred authentication method.

Voice Search is going to be a part of our immediate future, and will play a major role in the future of marketing. The challenge for marketers will be figuring out how to optimize for voice search queries. There are many nuances to voice search, the way consumers interact with Google Home, for example, will be significantly different than when they physically type out their search query. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to making voice commands, therefore understanding their voice search patterns will be an important task for marketers. Talking to a device was once a concept only Trekkies could relate to, but it’s part of everyday life now. Retailers, businesses and marketers need to get ready, as voice queries continue to see an upward trend.

When Google introduced Google Home, CEO Sundar Pichai told the audience that 20% of their mobile search queries were voice searches. That number has certainly risen since then, and will continue to rise, as consumers become more comfortable using Home device for searches, and eventually purchases and bookings.

How should businesses take advantage of voice search moving forward?

Here are a few tips for those looking to get a head start on optimizing for voice searches to  drive traffic to their websites or stores:

  1. Cater to the fact that voice queries are naturally longer than text based queries. If you want to get most out of voice search you should start testing a range of different, user-friendly key words.
  2. Listen to the way people talk about what you do and what you sell, leverage those insights when creating your voice search campaigns.
  3. Be sure that the answer they get is the right one. A user asking Alexa what time you’re opened until on Friday will be sorely disappointed if the information provided is inaccurate.

Whether or not consumers will start to feel “spied on” by their at-home assistants is unclear. But trading privacy for convenience and personalized experiences is on an upswing, so until then, businesses should do everything they can to optimize for voice command while Google and Amazon work their magic, and consumers become more comfortable by the minute.


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