Bloomberg reported last week that Amazon employs thousands of workers to listen to voice recordings captured from Echo speakers as part of it’s efforts to improve the performance of Alexa.

“Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.”

This is the latest in a string of news stories that raise creepy privacy questions brought by the emergence of voice-enabled IoT. Last October, an Oregon family learned that a private conversation had been mistakenly recorded and sent as a message to someone on the father’s contact list.

There’s a growing sensitivity to privacy at the same time as adoption is spiking. According to Motley Fool, an estimated 21% of US adults now own a smart speaker and adoption increased by 78% last year. The average household now owns 2.3 devices. 52% said they use their smart speakers on a daily basis.

Marketers have to figure out how to navigate this emerging channel. Salesforce reports that 32% of marketing organizations are using personal assistants to support their customer experience. Much of that effort is focused on optimizing for voice search.

I think it also illustrates a broader issue marketers increasingly face in balancing personalization with privacy. In the same report, Salesforce found that 51% of marketings say they’re more mindful about balancing personalization and privacy than they were two years ago.

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years.

“Marketing with Personal Data” May 2014

“The Future of E-Commerce” February 2018

“The Future of Advertising” August 2013

“Internet of Things” January 2014


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