Growing Data Economy, Fueled by Voice as a Platform, Requires Consumer-centric Approach

by Chris O’Dell | Jul. 30, 2019

Smart home device ownership tripled between 2014 and 2018, and households utilizing smart home technology now own an average of six devices. As the number of connected devices in the household increases, so does the consumer’s risk of exposure to a data privacy breach.

That risk is amplified by devices like smart speakers with voice assistants (Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.), which collect massive troves of data, while device manufacturers potentially harness that data without the consumer’s knowledge or consent. Our recent consumer data shows approximately one-fifth of consumers in US broadband households report that companies tracked their online activity for marketing purposes in the past 12 months.

Consumers are concerned about their private conversations being listened to and recorded without their permission. While smart speakers are designed to send data to the cloud only after hearing the wake word, there is considerable consumer concern about these devices being compromised by hackers, faulty device updates, or as part of government surveillance. Those issues and concerns were addressed last week at the VOICE Summit in Newark, New Jersey, where leading companies in the space, including Amazon and Google, addressed privacy issues as it relates to smart speakers and their integrated devices in the home.

Smart speakers have experienced massive movement in consumer adoption since 2016. Parks Associates research shows more than one-third (36%) of US broadband households own at least one of these devices, up from only 3% just three years prior. In a world where technology evolves at a rapid pace and large-scale data breaches are part of the weekly news cycle, many consumers are wary of devices and companies that could potentially exploit their sensitive data. This is true among the general public, and even more so among those already owning smart home devices.

Google takes an approach that allows device owners to delete their entire voice history or to erase historical data by topic, product, or date. Such approaches will help companies establish greater trust with consumers. In general, consumers view data rights as fundamental rights, and so companies must understand consumers’ willingness to exchange that data for services, their views on privacy and security, and the conditions under which they will grant companies access to their personal data.

Similarly, companies providing online security and privacy services can take measures to demonstrate the ongoing value of these services. While security protection is done in the background and sometimes never comes to the attention of the consumer, a security report can be provided to customers periodically to keep them informed about security breaches averted. CSS Corp, for example, provides network monitoring services to end consumers that involve sending push notifications to alert them of potential network issues and actions consumers can take to optimize performance of their home network at any given time.

Safety and security ultimately remain the leading value propositions for the smart home. Protecting consumer data and personal information is critical as smart home devices move toward mass-market adoption. Device manufacturers, broadband service providers, and data security service providers have an opportunity to double their efforts to mitigate potential risks to consumers’ personal data without the expectation that the consumer should or will do it themselves.

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