What You Need to Know About Digital Assistants

Written By Kate Carr

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Digital assistants are becoming commonplace in our homes and our hands. Your child may already be on a first-name basis with Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Now, or Amazon’s Alexa. 

In addition to stand alone assistant devices, every smartphone has its own digital assistant and many teens have their own phone or device. 

Digital assistants are especially popular among teens and millennials. Accenture recently polled 25,996 internet users worldwide, ages 14 and older, to ask them about their use of voice-enabled digital assistants. 

The age range of 14-17 year-olds was the most active age group to regularly use digital assistants and also scored the highest for responders who just started using digital assistants.

Are We Sacrificing Our Privacy for Convenience?

Digital assistants are here to stay. Gartner predicts that by 2019, digital assistants on smartphones and other devices will be in at least 25% of households in developed countries. 

Digital assistants give us instant access to information and can perform tasks like adding groceries to our shopping lists, sending reminders to buy birthday gifts, checking the weather, sending texts, ordering an Uber, or a product on Amazon. 

So, what’s the down side? We risk our privacy for convenience.

The more data our digital assistants collect, the better they can anticipate our needs. Digital assistants can only be “intuitive” to our needs if we give them access to our lives, including private conversations, browsing history, apps we use, and location data. 

Devices like the Amazon Echo are always “listening” to its surroundings so it can pick up on key words when you make commands. Alexa only records your commands, but that still grants the device the ability save a lot of personal information.

This creates a serious technological dilemma that has yet to be solved; how do we use convenient technology without sacrificing privacy and security?  

And of equal importance, do big tech companies truly care about user privacy? Remember, Big Data is very profitable. Ultimately, it is a personal choice how much data you are willing to share with technology corporations for the convenience of an intuitive digital assistant. 

How do we use convenient technology without sacrificing privacy and security?

Digital Assistants Just for Kids

Digital assistants are no longer just for teens and adults, they are being created specifically with kids in mind.

One device for kids is C-Way’s "Memoo." Parents can use an app to connect to the device and program how they want their child to interact with it. If getting your child ready for school is a struggle, "Memoo" can be set as an alarm, give the day's weather forecast, and remind your child what they need for the day. Through a Spotify account, parent-approved music can be played. "Memoo" can even be programmed to read a favorite bedtime story.

Mattel was creating a digital assistant device specifically for children, but canceled their plans after concerns about privacy were brought up by advocacy groups, lawmakers and parents. Aristotle was going to be more invasive than the average digital assistant. This device had a camera, serving as a baby monitor, and could log wet diapers and feedings with voice commands. 

While these functions could be helpful to an exhausted parent, there definitely would have been some real privacy concerns.

Every parent at some point will need to decide how they want to involve voice-activated digital assistants in their children’s lives. Digital assistants can be a great resource for a curious child and can help parents answer questions quickly and easily. Each family’s needs and preferences will determine if and how they choose to use digital assistants.

Learn more about digital assistants in our blog
How to Prevent Alexa from Becoming a Parenting Nightmare

About Kate Carr

Kate Carr is a recent grad from the University of Vermont with a degree in Psychology. She's interested in social marketing and is the Editorial Content Associate for Zift. 

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