Wake Mistake 2

Voice Assistants Accidentally Awakened by 64% of Users a Month: Survey

Nearly two-thirds of voice assistant users have mistakenly triggered their device over the course of a month, according to a new survey from small business advice site The Manifest. Accidental awakenings are a key reason why only 5% of voice assistant users said they are never frustrated with the technology.

Wrong Buttons and Misheard Words

The Manifest surveyed 501 voice search users in the U.S. for the report. Of the 64% who reported accidentally awakening their voice assistant, about half said it was because they pushed the wrong button on their device whether it’s because of a smartphone in a pocket or brushing up against a smart speaker. Unintentional activation by voice accounts for the rest of the explanations. The user might say the trigger words in another context or use a similar term, turning on the voice assistant, but 29% of the reported unintentional awakenings happened just because the software detected its wake words for no apparent reason.

A 2018 Voicebot survey found that 43.7% of smart speaker users have noticed they have accidentally awakened their voice assistant at least once a month, but that 20% discrepancy could be because The Manifest included mobile devices with voice assistants in their question. A smartphone’s buttons are logically more likely to get pressed accidentally compared to a smart speaker. Neither survey can account for the accidental awakenings a user doesn’t even notice, of course, and a voice assistant on a mobile device turning on by mistake is more likely to be spotted.

Embarrassment and Privacy Problems

Turning on a voice assistant by accident can be annoying if it interrupts a conversation or loudly repeats something you said quietly, especially in a public setting. The awkward moment can even go viral if it’s captured on video. Siri not only interrupted BBC meteorologist Tomasz Schafernaker while he was live on TV, but it also contradicted his predictions about the weather. At least he’s not likely to forget to remove his Apple Watch before going on-camera in the near future.

More than embarrassment, mistakenly turning on a voice assistant can be a privacy concern. This past summer, every major voice assistant platform dealt with suspicion about how they use contractors to listen to snippets of audio for quality control and improvement. The reports included plenty of times contractors listened to conversations and sounds people didn’t know were recorded and transmitted. The companies all adjusted how they run their programs and let users know about them, but mistaken awakenings can’t be automatically accounted for. New privacy commands for checking and deleting voice assistant recordings, like those Google debuted this week might help, but every voice assistants are unlikely to have a perfect record of knowing when to awaken any time soon.


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