Latest NewsPrivacy concerns hurdle to smart speaker ownership: Smart Audio Report

Privacy concerns hurdle to smart speaker ownership: Smart Audio Report

Privacy concerns are getting in the way of more smart speaker ownership, according to the latest Smart Audio Report from Edison Research and NPR.

Edison has been tracking trends in the voice-activated speaker space, in partnership with NPR, since 2017.

This year’s study finds that privacy concerns for those who don’t own a smart speaker are higher than they’ve ever been. Sixty-three per cent of those surveyed said they worry hackers could use smart speakers to access their home or personal information, up from 41% in 2017, while 55% say it bothers them that smart speakers are always listening, up from 38% in 2017.

“The privacy and security concerns are really, really there and to some extent we’ve become numb to that because everything is listening…but there are absolutely hard concerns with privacy and security with these devices,” said Tom Webster, VP of Strategy, for Edison Research.

Joel Sucherman, VP of New Platform Partnerships at NPR, says while a lot of owners are resigned to giving up a certain amount of personal data in exchange for tech that makes their lives easier, there is an indication those who already own smart speakers are trusting their devices more. Fifty-four per cent said they trust the companies that make smart speakers to keep their personal information secure.

“People are willing to give up a certain amount of data and privacy for something that makes your life better. It gives us in the voice-first space an opportunity to ensure we are underlining those values and we keep the trust of the individual first and foremost as we continue to produce content to help people make better use of the voice assistant,” said Sucherman.

Despite privacy concerns, many smart speaker owners expressed interest in features that venture into “science fiction” territory as Webster put it. Fifty-five per cent would be interested in a feature that would allow their smart speaker to call 9-1-1 if multiple smoke alarms went off in their home. One in four (24%) expressed interest in having a smart speaker feature that would recommend mental health resources if it detected they were feeling depressed or suicidal.

Discovery, innovation a challenge

Discovery remains a problem with 69% of respondents saying they don’t know enough about their smart speaker to use all of its features. A majority, 45%, said they are discovering new skills primarily from friends and family.

Fifty-five per cent said they’re using their devices to listen to more audio, with many using the smart speaker in place of having TV on in the background while they do other things.

The top 10 weekly requests noted were playing music (77%), getting the weather (75%), answering a general question (74%), followed by setting a timer or alarm or checking the time, which were tied at 53%. Listening to AM/FM radio came in at 37%.

The report also found that smart speaker owners use their device for fewer skills the longer they own them. While 69% of smart speaker owners use their device daily, the majority of users aren’t adding skills like they add apps to their mobile phones or tablets. Those who owned a smart speaker for three months or less were using their device for more skills on a weekly basis (12) than those who’ve owned one for two years or more (seven).

Of those who have owned a smart speaker for two years or more, 30% wouldn’t want to go back to life without it, compared to 11 per cent of those who’ve owned one for three months or less.

Sucherman says the finding may speak to a lack of innovation.

“We’re moving from phase one to phase two. This is still an industry in its infancy,” said Sucherman, who likened today’s smart speaker limitations to dial-up internet.

Interest in owning smart speakers is still strong at about 20%. Broken down by age, 26% of 18-34 years are interested, 29% of those aged 35-54, and just 9% of those 55+.

“Sixty per cent of those who don’t own a smart speaker feel they don’t need that type of tech in their lives…it’s something you don’t need until you’ve got it,” said Webster.

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Connie Thiessen
Connie Thiessen
Connie has worked coast-to-coast as a reporter, editor, anchor and host at CKNW and News 1130 in Vancouver, News 95.7 and CBC in Halifax, and CFCW Edmonton, among other stations. With a passion for music, film and community service, she led News 95.7 to a 2013 Atlantic Journalism Award and regional RTDNA award for Best Radio Newscast. More recently, she was nominated for Music Journalist of the Year at Canadian Music Week 2019. To report a typo or error please email -

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