SAN FRANCISCO, March 28, 2019 -- Almost half of American families surveyed have a new roommate, and parents who have invited her in now worry she's listening -- and taking notes.
Whether it's Amazon's Echo or Google Home, Siri or Alexa, smart speakers and voice-activated assistants are now in our kitchens, bedrooms, and play areas and are creating new concerns about privacy. According to a survey released today from Common Sense and SurveyMonkey, more than four in 10 parents of children age 2 to 8 say their families use a smart speaker such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, and nearly six in 10 say their young children interact with a voice-activated assistant such as Siri or Alexa. A clear, common undercurrent from the findings is concern: Almost all parents worry about the devices' privacy settings and what can happen to the data that is being collected. (For real-world reasons parents should care about privacy, see below.*)
This latest survey is part of a Common Sense partnership with SurveyMonkey to examine media and technology trends affecting kids and their parents and to share actionable data and insights for families.
Key findings include:
- Parents worry someone is listening. Over half of parents (58 percent) whose children use smart speakers think it's at least moderately likely that someone could hack their smart speakers and listen to their conversations. Four in 10 (40 percent) have turned off their smart speaker's microphone to prevent it from listening.
- Almost all parents surveyed value controlling and understanding what information is collected from their voice-activated devices. About nine in 10 parents (93 percent) who use voice-activated devices say it's important to them to know when their families' voices are being recorded, to control what information is collected about them (93 percent), and to control whether their family's voice data is being used to deliver more targeted ads (88 percent).
- Some parents wish they could limit data collection by voice-activated assistants. A full third (33 percent) of parents whose children interact with voice-activated devices say they would like to take steps to limit the data collected by voice-activated assistants, but they don't know how.
- Most kids get that Siri isn't a human. Most parents report their children think voice-activated assistants are not human: They are identified primarily as robots (39 percent) or computer programs (26 percent).
- Many kids talk to smart speakers daily, mostly to listen to music. Half of parents (50 percent) say their children interact with a smart speaker once a day or more, most often to play music (47 percent) but also to get information (12 percent), just to talk or fool around with (12 percent), or to get jokes (10 percent).
- Voice-activated assistants are helpful for some parents and many older kids.
- About three in 10 parents (29 percent) say voice-activated assistants are "extremely" or "very" helpful in accomplishing parenting tasks, such as making grocery lists, answering children's questions, or setting reminders.
- More than four in 10 parents of 6- to 8-year-olds (43 percent) say their children use voice-activated assistants to help with homework.
"This report is a clarion call for tech companies and privacy regulators that as these devices are brought into the home, there's nearly unanimous concern about privacy," said James P. Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. "After all, voice-activated devices collect and store untold amounts of data, and it's unclear what the companies do with the extraneous noise they pick up. Until privacy regulations are worked out, parents should turn off their home assistant's microphone when they're not using it and do regular privacy checks to maintain their comfort level with these devices."
"Our study pinpoints privacy as a major concern among consumers who use smart speakers, particularly among parents of young children," said Jon Cohen, chief research officer at SurveyMonkey. "As voice-activated assistants are incorporated more fully into family life, brands need to carefully balance these widespread privacy concerns with their relentless build-out of ever-more-advanced features that promise value, convenience, and plain-old fun."
The full results of the survey can be viewed at Common Sense Media.
About Common Sense
Common Sense is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Learn more at commonsense.org.
Founded in 1999, SurveyMonkey changed the way people gather feedback by making it easy for anyone to create their own online surveys. Our mission is to power curious individuals and organizations around the globe to measure, benchmark, and act on the opinions that drive success. Our People Powered Data platform enables organizations of any size to have conversations at scale to deliver impactful customer, employee, and market insights. Our more than 850 employees are dedicated to fueling the curiosity of over 17.5 million active users globally.
Tanya Schevitz, Common Sense
Irina Efremova, SurveyMonkey
For more information, including specific privacy-protection tips, check out our Parent's Ultimate Guide to Smart Devices.
Real-World Reasons Parents Should Care About Privacy*
- Smart speakers can divulge "secrets." Smart devices collect data to provide a service. For instance, a smart refrigerator tracks what food you buy -- but it typically collects more data than it needs. So what additional information are devices like smart speakers collecting, and where is it going? It's used to create consumer profiles, which are then often sold to other companies. And if you're asking Alexa or Google Home about your symptoms when you don't feel well or are worried about a health issue, that may go into your profile. So maybe you don't mind if that means you're marketed a new ice cream flavor, but how would you feel if your indulgent ice cream habit or other health issues were revealed to your health insurance provider?
- Smart speakers can "spy." Everyone has the right to privacy, especially in their own home. But home assistants such as Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are designed to butt their noses into conversations. These devices collect -- and store -- untold amounts of data. It's unclear what the companies do with the extraneous "noise" they pick up. And if it's subpoenaed, they might have to hand it over. Say your kid jokes about terrorism or something else illegal; if there's an investigation into those activities, the companies might have to cough up the transcripts. In Arkansas, a prosecutor asked for a murder suspect's Echo smart speaker in case its information could shed light on the crime. The suspect agreed to hand over the recordings, and Amazon was compelled to make them available.
- Smart speakers can profile students. Schools are increasingly using third-party software to teach, test, and diagnose learning issues and interact with students. And the companies that serve up the programs are typically allowed to collect, store, and sell your kids' performance records. If your kid is using your home speaker to get homework help, that just adds to their profile. Wondering about all those offers for supplemental reading classes you're receiving in the mail? Maybe your kid stumbled on her reading assessments -- and marketers are trying to sell you "solutions." Curious why Harvard isn't trying to recruit your kid? Maybe they already decided she's not Ivy League material based on her middle school grades.