A new study by Ofcom, a UK regulator for communications services, looked at the usage of and attitudes towards smart speakers such as the HomePod mini.
The research, done inc onjunction with Community Research, consisted of a three-week 100-person online forum with smart speaker users, followed by focus groups with around half the forum participants. The research also included 15 depth interviews with non-users of smart speakers.
These participants were sent smart speakers to try out, and follow-up interviews captured their experiences. Here are some highlights from the report:
° The vast majority of participants in this research (including those who were participating as non-users) were positive about their experience of owning and using a smart speaker. They liked the convenience it brought, allowing them to do a range of different activities in addition to listening to music. The fact that they could use their voice to control those activities meant they could do things quickly and hands-free.
° People also liked speakers for wider benefits – for example, the companionship they could provide, and the ways in which they could help people with physical or neurological disabilities.
° Most participants did identify some downsides to smart speakers, most commonly that they did not always respond correctly to commands, either ignoring them or doing the ‘wrong’ thing.
° This was felt to be particularly the case by people with strong regional accents.
° However, these downsides were generally seen to be minor irritations that didn’t fundamentally impact on people’s enjoyment of their speakers.
° When it came to risks, privacy and data use were the uppermost concerns (although it should be noted that this was in the context of a largely very positive attitude towards smart speakers). These concerns ranged from people feeling generally uneasy about being listened to and targeted for marketing purposes, to more defined worries about hackers and data security.
° Parental concerns, where they existed (some parents did not feel that they had cause to worry), were more likely to centre on the potential for their children to access inappropriate content or make unauthorised purchases.
° For most participants, the benefits and conveniences the smart speakers brought outweighed any concerns about risks; they were resigned to living with these niggles.
° Not many participants actively reduced the risks of using smart speakers. Those who did tended to alter their behaviour (such as turning off the speaker; not having private conversations near it; supervising children’s use of it), rather than changing privacy and parental control settings.
° When prompted to look for / at them, some participants felt that privacy and parental control settings were not prominent enough, and too hard to change.