DigitalizationSmart language assistants understand more than they should

Today, the market watchdog team at the consumer association North Rhine-Westphalia (vz NRW) presented its results of a technical review of the digital voice assistants Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It shows that both devices understand more than they ought to and they respond to terms and modified word combinations that go beyond the originally programmed activation word.

These are the main results:

  • Amazon Alexa also reacts to "Alexandra" (for "Alexa"), "Gecko" (for "Echo") and "Ham wa schon" (colloquially German for "We already have it" instead of "Amazon"). At times the language assistant's reactions are completely random.

  • Google Assistant not only listens to "Ok Google" or "Hey Google," but also "Ok Kuchen" (German for “Ok cake”) and "Ok Du" (German for “Ok you”) as well as profound word modifications like “Ok, gucken wir mal!“ (German for "Ok, let's have a look!"). Even everyday word combinations such as “Ok gut” (German for "Ok good") trigger the language assistant.

  • Moreover, both Google and Amazon use stored conversation information for advertising purposes. For instance, when installing the Google Assistant, an ad server is included for tracking and measuring the success of online ads. With the installation of its app, Amazon obtains the consent of the customers for the use of cookies and Internet advertising.

In this context, Google has kept the option to refuse user requests regarding their personal stored data at its own discretion so far. Following a successful warning of Google by the market watchdog team, this inadmissible provision has been deleted.

Dr. Ayten Öksüz, member of the market watchdog team at vz NRW, summarizes: "Consumers should therefore be aware that they could unintentionally transfer data to the respective provider server when using digital language assistants. Hence, it would be conceivable that the users' "topics of conversation" could also be used for advertising beyond the mere information service."

Source: Market watchdog team at consumer association NRW

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