Privacy Issues Affect Smart Speaker Growth: Report
Wed, April 14, 2021

Privacy Issues Affect Smart Speaker Growth: Report

Smart speakers are being used in searching for a quick fact, asking for directions, searching for a business, and researching a product or service. / Photo by: Daisy Daisy via Shutterstock

 

Since smart speakers were introduced to the market, they have moved from a niche domain to an inherent part of the lives of tens of millions of people across the world. A recent report from technology analyst firm Canalys showed that the global smart speaker installed base will reach over 200 million in 2019 and over 500 million by 2023. In 2018, the installed base of smart speakers sold over 114 million units, and that number will be at 207.9 million at the end of this year. 

While the US continues to be the largest global market with a sales growth at 46 percent, it was reported that China will show the fastest smart speaker growth worldwide of 166 percent – with a total of 60 million units sold. According to Voicebot.ai, an online site that provides news, market analysis, and interviews related to voice assistants and artificial intelligence, China is followed by South Korea and Japan with 132 percent and 131 percent, respectively, in smart speaker adoption rates. 

A recent report from Search Engine Land, an online site that covers all aspects of digital marketing, advertising technology, and the martech landscape, showed that Siri and Google Assistant are top in terms of usage market share with 36 percent. This is followed by Alexa (25 percent) and Cortana (19 percent). Smart speakers are being used in tons of ways, including searching for a quick fact (68 percent), asking for directions (65 percent), searching for a business (47 percent), and researching a product or service (44 percent).

However, this hands-free convenience has a cost: the speakers are constantly listening for commands. With the continuous growth of the global smart speaker market, security and privacy concerns are on the rise. Smart speakers from different tech giants such as Amazon, Apple, and Google are acquiring other senses beyond hearing. The latest models of these devices have smart cameras that can monitor users' movements and behavior. Worse, future ones may use “lidar” sensors to see shapes and detect human gestures. 

Privacy Issues in the Global Smart Speaker Market

Recently, Google hardware chief Rick Osterloh warned homeowners that smart speakers might have been secretly recording conversations they have with their visitors. This, after Google, Apple, and Amazon came under fire earlier this year with “eavesdropping” allegations with these devices. Thus, many users have been questioning how the value of the device’s functionality balances out with its privacy risks. 

The latest Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research showed that privacy concerns are starting to affect the adoption of smart speakers. At the same time, it can be lessening usage among existing owners. According to Marketing Land, a daily publication that covers all aspects of the digital marketing industry, the report showed that 63 percent of existing users are not using their smart speakers because they worry that hackers could use these devices to get access to their home or personal information. 

Also, 55 percent of smart speakers' owners are bothered that the devices are always listening to them, and 40 percent are worried that they could allow the government to listen to private conversations. According to the report, there are more concerns about privacy and security among non-owners this year compared to 2017. 

Privacy issues concerning smart speakers came from tech companies integrating too many commands on the devices. The problem with having too many commands is that users would expect that smart speakers would be able to understand their instructions and do anything they tell it. But, these devices have only limited deep learning algorithms. According to Tech Talks, an online site that examines trends in technology, this means they can only work in the distinct domains they’ve been trained for. There’s a possibility that smart speakers will either fail or start acting in erratic ways when they are given a command they don’t know.

Still Using Smart Speakers

Despite the growing privacy issues surrounding smart speakers, the adoption of these devices has become inevitable. A recent Capgemini Research Institute report showed that more people are buying smart speakers. Of over 12,000 respondents who live in the US, the UK, France, and Germany, half of them have a voice-activated device – a 25 percent increase since 2017. However, the report showed that 52 percent of the respondents were worried their voice assistants were listening to their private conversations.

According to Bloomberg UK, which delivers business and market news, data, analysis, and video to the world, privacy advocates are afraid that there are unclear terms of service details or platforms transcribing conversations without users' consent, which could be a breach of their rights.

While Apple Inc., Amazon, and Facebook have already suspended or amended policies regarding the human analysis of user commands, users are still not assured that their information is safe and protected. In an open letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, UK nonprofit organization Privacy International said, “That’s not our idea of consent. We believe the default settings should be there to protect your users’ privacy. Millions of customers enjoy your product and they deserve better from you.”

Nonetheless, smart speakers are still something that many homeowners want. Thus, it is up to the tech companies to develop a safe and secured landscape in which consumers can feel comfortable with voice-capturing devices while making the most out of its functions. 

 

Privacy issues concerning smart speakers came from tech companies integrating too many commands on the devices. / Photo by: issaro prakalung via Shutterstock