Alexa, Are You Listening?: Privacy Perceptions, Concerns and Privacy-seeking Behaviors with Smart Speakers

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The authors are Josephine Lau, Benjamin Zimmerman and Florian Schaub, all of the University of Michigan.

ABSTRACT:  Smart speakers with voice assistants, like Amazon Echo and Google Home, provide benefits and convenience but also raise privacy concerns due to their continuously listening microphones. We studied people’s reasons for and against adopting smart speakers, their privacy perceptions and concerns, and their privacy-seeking behaviors around smart speakers. We conducted a diary study and interviews with seventeen smart speaker users and interviews with seventeen non-users. We found that many non-users did not see the utility of smart speakers or did not trust speaker companies. In contrast, users express few privacy concerns, but their rationalizations indicate an incomplete understanding of privacy risks, a complicated trust relationship with speaker companies, and a reliance on the socio-technical context in which smart speakers reside.

Users trade privacy for convenience with different levels of deliberation and privacy resignation. Privacy tensions arise between primary, secondary, and incidental users of smart speakers. Finally, current smart speaker privacy controls are rarely used, as they are not well-aligned with users’ needs. Our findings can inform future smart speaker designs; in particular we recommend better integrating privacy controls into smart speaker interaction.