Smart speaker

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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.[1] 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.[2][3] While similar in form factor to tablet computers, smart displays differ in their emphasis on a hands-free user interface and virtual assistant features.[4]

As of winter 2017, it is estimated by NPR and Edison Research that 39 million Americans (16% of the population over 18) own a smart speaker.[5]

Privacy concerns[edit]

The built-in microphone in smart speakers is continuously listening for "hot words" followed by a command. However, these continuously listening microphones also raise privacy concerns among users.[6] These include what is being recorded, how the data will be used, how it will be protected, and whether it will be used for invasive advertising.[7][8] 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.[9]

As a wiretap[edit]

There are strong concerns that the ever-listening microphone of smart speakers presents 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.[10]

Voice assistance vs privacy[edit]

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.[11] However, only more recently have users begun 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 by hot word-based engagement in a smart speaker. While this distinction 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. [12] This trade-off is not unique to voice assistants; as more and more devices come online, there is an increasing trade-off between convenience and privacy.[13]

Factors influencing adoption[edit]

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,[example needed] perceived lack of utility, and privacy and security concerns.[6]

Security concerns[edit]

When configured without authentication, smart speakers can be activated by people other than the intended user. For example, visitors to a home or office, or people in a publicly accessible area outside an open window, partial wall, or security fence, may be able to be heard by a speaker. One team demonstrated the ability to stimulate the microphones of smart speakers and smartphones through a closed window, from another building across the street, using a laser.[14]

Most popular smart speaker devices and platforms[edit]

Virtual assistant Owned by Devices No. of users Languages/markets Notes
Alice Yandex 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)[15] March 2018: English for US, UK, Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand; German (Germany, Austria); Japanese (Japan); French (France), Spanish (Hispanic countries)[16][17]
Ambient OS Essential Products Essential Home (in development)
Siri Apple, Inc. Apple HomePod February 2018: English for US, UK, Australia[18]
DuerOS Open Platform[19] Baidu Xiaoyu, RavenH, Aladdin ceiling-mounted smart speaker-lamp-projector[20][21] China Xiaoyu went on sale in spring 2017.[19]
Clova Naver Corporation, Line Corporation Japanese and Korean for Japan and South Korea markets Introduced summer 2017[22]
Google Assistant Google Google Home series: Home, Home Max, Home Mini, Nest Hub, Nest Hub Max 14 million Google Homes in U.S. (January 2018)[15] December 2018: English (U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia), French (France, Canada), German, Japanese, Korean, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch and Spanish (Spain). [23]
Beijing LingLong, part of JD DingDong Mandarin and Cantonese for Greater China In cooperation with Chinese AI firm iFlytek. Went on sale November 2016.[24]
Microsoft Cortana Microsoft Harman Kardon INVOKE January 2018: English for US, Canada, Australia, India[25]
Xiaowei[19] Tencent forthcoming[19] China
Bixby Samsung Electronics Galaxy Home [26]
Hallo Magenta Deutsche Telekom Hallo Magenta Germany



  1. ^ smart speaker,, May 2017
  2. ^ Brown, Rich. "Echo Show, Nest Hub, Facebook Portal and more: How to pick the best smart display in 2019". CNET. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  3. ^ Faulkner, Cameron (9 October 2018). "How Google's new Home Hub compares to the Echo Show and Facebook Portal". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-06-19.
  4. ^ Lacoma, Tyler (October 26, 2018). "What is a smart display?". Digital Trends.
  5. ^ The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison Research, Fall-Winter 2017 (PDF)
  6. ^ a b 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.
  7. ^ "Amazon hands over Echo 'murder' data". 7 March 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via
  8. ^ "Amazon patents 'voice-sniffing' algorithms". 11 April 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ Greenberg, Andy (1 August 2017). "A Hacker Turned an Amazon Echo Into a 'Wiretap'". Retrieved 2 March 2019 – via
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Christoffer Lambertsson. 2017. Expectations of Privacy in Voice Interaction–A Look at Voice Controlled Bank Transactions. Ph.D. Dissertation. KTH Royal Institute of Technology
  13. ^ Rao, Sonia (12 September 2018) "In today's homes, consumers are willing to sacrifice privacy for convenience". Retrieved 25 February 2019
  14. ^ Lasers can silently issue 'voice commands' to your smart speakers
  15. ^ a b Bishop, Todd (January 26, 2018). "New data: Google Home faring better against Amazon Echo, grabbing 40% of U.S. holiday sales". GeekWire. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  16. ^ "AVS for International". Amazon. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  17. ^ "THE YEAR ALEXA GREW UP". Wired. Retrieved 23 December 2018.
  18. ^ "You can finally buy Apple's HomePod". 9 February 2018.
  19. ^ a b c d Horwitz, Josh. "China's tech giants are racing to popularize their versions of the Amazon Echo".
  20. ^ "Baidu launches three new smart speakers that don't need Alexa or Google Assistant".
  21. ^ Bonnington, Christina (16 November 2017). "Baidu's New Smart Speaker Looks Like Nothing Else on the Market" – via Slate.
  22. ^ "LINE to Introduce Clova Virtual Assistant for Korea and Japan - Voicebot".
  23. ^ "Change your Google Assistant language". Google Home Help. Retrieved 19 March 2018.
  24. ^ Bateman, Joshua D. (22 November 2016). "Behold China's Answer to Amazon Echo: The LingLong DingDong". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  25. ^ "The Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana works just fine outside the U.S."
  26. ^ Ingraham, Nathan (9 August 2018). "Does Samsung's Galaxy Home stand a chance?". Engadget. Oath Inc. Retrieved 9 August 2018.