Privacy Concerns Rise Significantly as 1-in-3 Consumers Cite it as Reason to Avoid Smart Speakers

  • 33% of U.S. adults cite concerns about smart speakers recording what they are saying as a top reason for not purchasing the devices, a figure that has more than doubled since 2018
  • Heightened privacy worries are not limited to people who don’t own smart speakers as even device owners also report rising concern
  • A declining number of consumers say they are likely to become first-time smart speaker owners in 2020 than in previous years

In the two earlier editions of the Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report, consumers were most likely to express lack of interest, no opinion, or that smartphones were sufficient to meet their needs when asked why they didn’t own a smart speaker. Privacy concerns were a distant fourth on consumers’ lists of reasons in 2018 and rose significantly in 2019 but still did not crack the top three responses. The 2020 edition of our national survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults showed a significantly different result.

You can see in the chart below that the response, “I am concerned the device will record what I’m saying,” resonated with 16% of the survey takers. Keep in mind that the participants could select multiple responses so only about 1-in-6 U.S. adults saw this as a reason of any priority in 2018. By 2019, that figure had risen by 7% to 23% but was still less than 1-in-4 consumers. This privacy concern is now cited by 1-in-3 consumers, double the figure of two years earlier and 10% higher than in 2019.

Multiple Responses Accepted

You see more about this analysis in the Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report 2020 and download the executive summary by clicking the button below.

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All U.S. Consumers Report Rising Privacy Concerns

There is a rising concern among U.S. adults about privacy and smart speakers even when you include smart speaker owners. In January 2019, the combined “moderately concerned” and “very concerned” cohort totaled 46%. One year later that figure was 53%. This has led to the scissor chart below where the no concern group was higher in 2019 and the high concern group was lower with a reversal twelve months later.

What happened in that intervening period to cause such a significant shift? Starting in April and continuing through the summer a series of articles were published about voice assistants and contractors listening to conversations. Amazon was the first to become exposed and was soon followed by Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and LINE. In each instance, a contractor to one of the countries discussed with the news media their experience listening to consumer conversations and in some cases, they shared actual recordings. And, there were claims that personal information was exposed in some voice assistant conversations which were private and could potentially enable the actual identification of the user.

Listening to conversations to identify errors and make improvements in machine learning models for voice assistants is a common and necessary practice. Otherwise, the systems do not improve their speech recognition and identification of user intent as quickly. This is a risk for voice assistant providers because errors in natural language processing have a direct negative effect on user experience.

However, the media coverage exposed this practice in an unflattering manner. Not only was it positioned as something that was kept secret by voice assistant providers, but it revealed that third-party contractors were doing the work and potentially leaking private information to consumers.

Not surprisingly, the fist chart also shows that fewer consumers plan to purchase smart speakers in 2020 or in future years than identified in past surveys. This suggests we may see in 2020, the first real contraction in smart speaker adoption growth with fewer new users added than in the previous year. If this occurs, it will almost surely be blamed on economic contraction and consumer reduction in discretionary spending. The data show that privacy concerns may be an even bigger factor.

You can learn more about this topic in the Smart Speaker Consumer Adoption Report 2020.

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