Any Sirious Concerns Yet? – An Empirical Analysis of Voice Assistants’ Impact on Consumer Behavior and Assessment of Emerging Policy Challenges
TPRC47: The 47th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2019
25 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2019 Last revised: 31 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 25, 2019
Voice interfaces have proliferated recently. Next to dedicated voice assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Assistant and Apple’s Siri, a multitude of white label task-specific voice interfaces has been built into cars, home appliances and other devices. Despite their potentially profound impact on the internet ecosystem, there is little empirical evidence on how consumers use voice interfaces that is used to identify emerging policy challenges. To provide such insights, we draw on an analysis of the current capabilities of voice assistants, a literature review of usage patterns and potential associated concerns and a representative survey of 3,184 internet users in Germany. Our analysis focuses on five voice assistants (Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri) rather than white label task-specific device interfaces.
Our results indicate that voice assistants are indeed pervasive. The vast majority of respondents (85%) have at least one device at home featuring one of the five voice assistants above as a pre-installed default. However, only 26% of respondents currently use at least one voice assistant. Another 13% discontinued interacting with voice assistants, while the remaining 46% of internet users who could use a voice assistant without installing an additional app or updating their operating system have never done so.
Given the network effects and feedback loops associated with the ecosystems that the tech firms behind the most relevant voice assistants have built over recent years, significant leaps in voice assistants’ capabilities may be expected. Combined with low switching costs and the variety of devices enabling the installation of a voice assistant or having one installed already, a competitive edge for one or two actor(s) may favor (a) new, potentially very powerful gatekeeper(s). Today, 78% of voice assistant users in Germany rely solely on one assistant.
How concerning such a new gatekeeper is to policymakers and regulators depends substantially on the tasks it fulfills. Our analysis of available voice assistant functions points to ten common functions across Alexa, Bixby, Cortana, Google Assistant and Siri. The most commonly used function is ‘seeking information online’. Around two thirds of voice assistant users stated to use this function. A new gatekeeper may thus indeed have an impact on the information that we find online. Notably, of those who use more than one voice assistant 67% also draw on at least two services for their information searches. Otherwise, favorite functions vary substantially. Alexa is predominantly used to play music (65%). Google Assistant users focus on controlling the devices on which the assistant is installed (36%), while Siri users favor the call function (48%). For the less pervasive assistants Bixby and Cortana setting up reminders is the most favorite function (51% and 33%) besides information search.
While our results do not imply an immediate need for action, policymakers and regulators ought to be acutely aware of the dynamic development of voice assistants, especially given the potential of an unprecedented adoption curve and their crucial role within ecosystems.
Keywords: voice assistant, internet, policy, regulation, consumer, technology acceptance, device neutrality
JEL Classification: D12, D83, K23, L4, L5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation