A smart speaker is a type of wireless speaker and voice command device with an integrated virtual assistant that offers interactive actions and hands-free activation with the help of one "hot word" (or several "hot words"). Some smart speakers can also act as a smart device that utilizes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other wireless protocol standards to extend usage beyond audio playback, such as to control home automation devices. This can include, but is not be limited to, features such as compatibility across a number of services and platforms, peer-to-peer connection through mesh networking, virtual assistants, and others. Each can have its own designated interface and features in-house, usually launched or controlled via application or home automation software. Some smart speakers also include a screen to show the user a visual response.
A smart speaker with a touchscreen is known as a smart display. While similar in form factor to tablet computers, smart displays differ in their emphasis on a hands-free user interface and virtual assistant features.
The built-in microphone in smart speakers are continuously listening for "hot words" followed by a command. However, these continuously listening microphones also raise privacy concerns among users. These privacy concerns include what is being recorded, how will the data be used, how it will be protected, and whether it will be used for invasive advertising. Further, an analysis of Amazon Alexa Echo Dots showed that 30–38% of "spurious audio recordings were human conversations", suggesting that these devices capture audio outside of strictly after hot word detection.
As a wiretap
There are strong concerns that the ever-listening microphone of smart speakers present a perfect candidate for a wiretap. In 2017, British security researcher Mark Barnes showed that pre-2017 Echos have exposed pins that allow for a compromised OS to be booted.
Voice assistance vs privacy
While voice assistants provide a valuable service, there can be some hesitation towards using them in various social contexts, such as in public or around other users. However, only more recently have users began interacting with voice assistants through an interaction with smart speakers rather than an interaction with the phone. On the phone, most voice assistants have the option to be engaged by a physical button (e.g., Siri with a long press of the home button) rather than solely hot word based engagement in a smart speaker. This distinction while increases the privacy by limiting when the microphone is on, users felt that having to press a button first removed the convenience of voice interaction.  This tradeoff is not unique to voice assistants, as more and more devices come online there is an increasing tradeoff between convenience and privacy.
Factors influencing adoption
While there are many factors influencing smart speaker adoption, specifically with regards to privacy, Lau et. al. define five distinct categories as pros and cons: convenience, identity as an early adopter, contributing factors, perceived lack of utility, and privacy and security concerns. These "pro" factors will have to overcome the "con" factors in order for adoption. However, not all users will necessarily be comfortable with smart speakers regardless of pros, as highly privacy conscious non-users may not trust companies to adhere to their terms of services.
Most popular smart speaker devices and platforms
|Virtual assistant||Owned by||Devices||No. of users||Languages/markets||Notes|
||Russia||Yandex Station went on sale in July 2018|
|AliGenie||Alibaba Group||China||Went on sale in August 2017|
|Amazon Alexa||Amazon||31 million Echo devices in U.S. (January 2018)||March 2018: English for US, UK, Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand; German (Germany, Austria); Japanese (Japan); French (France), Spanish (Hispanic countries)|
|Ambient OS||Essential Products||Essential Home (in development)|
|Apple Home Kit||Apple, Inc.||Invoxia Triby|
|Siri||Apple, Inc.||Apple HomePod||February 2018: English for US, UK, Australia|
|DuerOS Open Platform||Baidu||Xiaoyu, RavenH, Aladdin ceiling-mounted smart speaker-lamp-projector||China||Xiaoyu went on sale in spring 2017.|
|Clova||Naver Corporation, Line Corporation||Japanese and Korean for Japan and South Korea markets||Introduced summer 2017|
|Google Assistant||Google Home series: Home, Home Max, Home Mini||14 million Google Homes in U.S. (January 2018)||December 2018: English (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia), French (France, Canada), German, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Spanish (Spain). |
|Beijing LingLong, part of JD||DingDong||Mandarin and Cantonese for Greater China||In cooperation with Chinese AI firm iFlytek. Went on sale November 2016.|
|Microsoft Cortana||Microsoft||Harman Kardon INVOKE||January 2018: English for US, Canada, Australia, India|
|Bixby||Samsung Electronics||Galaxy Home|||
- smart speaker, techtarget.com, May 2017
- The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, Fall-Winter 2017 (PDF)
- Lacoma, Tyler (October 26, 2018). "What is a smart display?". Digital Trends.
- Lau, Josephine; Zimmerman, Benjamin; Schaub, Florian (1 November 2018). "Alexa, Are You Listening?: Privacy Perceptions, Concerns and Privacy-seeking Behaviors with Smart Speakers". Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 2 (CSCW): 102:1–102:31. doi:10.1145/3274371. Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via ACM Digital Library.
- "Amazon hands over Echo 'murder' data". 7 March 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via www.BBC.com.
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- Ford, Marcia, and William Palmer. "Alexa, are you listening to me? An analysis of Alexa voice service network traffic." Personal and Ubiquitous Computing (2018): 1-13.
- Greenberg, Andy (1 August 2017). "A Hacker Turned an Amazon Echo Into a 'Wiretap'". Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via www.wired.com.
- Sarah Mennicken and Elaine M. Huang. 2012. Hacking the Natural Habitat: An In-the-Wild Study of Smart Homes,Their Development, and the People Who Live in Them. In Pervasive Computing. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 143–160.
- Christoffer Lambertsson. 2017. Expectations of Privacy in Voice Interaction–A Look at Voice Controlled Bank Transactions. Ph.D. Dissertation. KTH Royal Institute of Technology
- Rao, Sonia (12 September 2018) "In today's homes, consumers are willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience". Retrieved 25 February 2019
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- Horwitz, Josh. "China's tech giants are racing to popularize their versions of the Amazon Echo".
- "Baidu launches three new smart speakers that don't need Alexa or Google Assistant".
- Bonnington, Christina (16 November 2017). "Baidu's New Smart Speaker Looks Like Nothing Else on the Market" – via Slate.
- "LINE to Introduce Clova Virtual Assistant for Korea and Japan - Voicebot". www.voicebot.ai.
- "Change your Google Assistant language". Google Home Help. Google. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
- Bateman, Joshua D. (22 November 2016). "Behold China's Answer to Amazon Echo: The LingLong DingDong". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- "The Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana works just fine outside the U.S."
- Ingraham, Nathan (9 August 2018). "Does Samsung's Galaxy Home stand a chance?". Engadget. Oath Inc. Retrieved 9 August 2018.
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