Home Security: The Tipping Point for Smart Speaker Privacy Fears?

Could the fear of Alexa ‘listening in’ transform into a benefit in consumers’ eyes?

It’s a fact — privacy concerns are still a hurdle for smart speaker adoption, whether that’s avoiding them for certain actions such as shopping, or in owning one at all.

While a lack of confidence in payment security remains a blocker for some to use the devices for purchasing, the core issue is by far the fear that ‘they are always listening in.’ According to research conducted by Accenture, 22% of smart speaker owners report they leave the room or lower their voice so ‘it can’t hear them’, and around 48% believe the technology is always listening to them.

Claims that are not only unsubstantiated, but also resolutely refused by Google and Amazon, who maintain devices will only activate their listening capacity on hearing the “wake word“.

However this is a message not easily argued when consumers get wind of stories such as conversations being recorded and sent to random contacts, or how Chinese hackers found a way to make ‘Echo a Spy Bug’. (For the record, both examples being either an exceptionally rare system error or a demonstration-only research exercise that took months to produce… But that doesn’t stop the press pushing out a sensational headline).

But, what if having Alexa ‘listening all the time’ could actually enhance your home security?
Well, Alexa Guard promises just that.

Announced back in September but just released this week, Alexa Guard sends Smart Alerts to straight to your phone on detecting the sound of glass-breaking, smoke detectors, or carbon monoxide alarms detected in your home.

Smart Alerts send directly to the owner’s phone. Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET.

Alexa Guard can also turn lights on and off to mimic home activity with Away Lighting and can integrate with other home security systems such as ADT or Ring, who Amazon acquired back in September.

Simply say ‘Alexa, I’m leaving’ to activate Guard mode. Of course, the feature has launched in the US before being available in the UK and so far Amazon has not stated when it will be available outside of the States. But no doubt it will make its way across the pond shortly.

So ok, Alexa isn’t ‘always listening’ with Guard mode — you still have to activate the device with the wake word and trigger the mode session with a keyword (‘I’m leaving’) — but I would argue that it could offer a pivotal opportunity for the convenience and utility of certain, more ‘intrusive’ applications, to outweigh the concerns some people may have when it comes to smart speakers.

2019 forecast? The tipping point of utility vs fear when it comes to home devices.

If you follow consumer adoption patterns and theory, you could argue that we’re somewhere in the midst of the Decision Phase of Roger’s Diffusion of Innovations model and that 2019 is going to see the advantages rocket past the perceived disadvantages of voice tech in the home. The utility and convenience Alexa (and other voice devices) offer to consumers is simply going to eclipse any lingering hesitations or concerns.

Usefulness aside, there are other more immediate and fundamental ways in which brands can inspire trust through conversational interfaces… Tone and transparency.

Tone and Transparency — the core principles of credible and trustworthy conversational design / Credit: Associated Press


Tone, in terms of persona development and character design, is absolutely essential in cultivating the right emotional connection with consumers. The way in which your brand speaks, quite literally, is core to how users will perceive the positioning and creditability of this conversational touchpoint. Voice is a whole new opportunity for the expression of a brand voice, and character design is at the heart of this experience principle.

The emotional connection that voice interfaces can generate is not something to be underestimated. Indeed, neuroscience studies have shown that the emotional response to branded questions is double when using a voice interface vs a text input.*

Put simply, voice fires up a whole other, more emotional part of our brain, and this is a phenomenal opportunity for brands to harness.


Secondly, transparency. Effective and considered consumer-centric UX design has upheld this value for years, especially within e-commerce journeys, and voice should not be considered any differently. Signposting, seamless interaction design, precise use of explanatory language especially during on-boarding… These are just some of the essential components in generating the sense of a transparent brand experience.

Whatever the predictions for the year ahead, with many Alexa devices selling out entirely in the run up to Christmas and Google reporting similarly impressive sales all year, it’s indisputable that the consumer appetite for voice technology has never been so ferocious. And whether or not a certain reticence will continue to hover in the background for specific uses, smart speakers are set to dominate our homes and interaction behaviours in 2019 like never before.

Interested in creating engaging and emotive voice experiences that inspire trust and brand loyalty? Vixen Labs we can help you do just that. Find out more at www.vixenlabs.co or drop me a line at jen@vixenlabs.co

*Source: Neuro-Insight Study, Feb 2017. Brain activity measured using SST headsets; unit of measurement is radians, which equates to positivity in brain response.