Insights|Voice Assistants and Data Protection Take Center Stage at CES 2020

Voice Assistants and Data Protection Take Center Stage at CES 2020

Even at an event usually focused on the latest gadgets and devices, the conversation was all about personal data and how not to misuse it. The world’s largest consumer technology show, CES, bills itself as the global stage for innovation. And while the aisles and stands were packed with the latest ultra-high resolution TVs, VR

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CES 2020
by Sitel staff January 21, 2020 - 4 MIN READ

Even at an event usually focused on the latest gadgets and devices, the conversation was all about personal data and how not to misuse it.

The world’s largest consumer technology show, CES, bills itself as the global stage for innovation. And while the aisles and stands were packed with the latest ultra-high resolution TVs, VR headsets and semi-autonomous automobiles, the big talk at this year’s show was around conversational interfaces and around data, privacy and protection.

A 500 million milestone

Google commandeered a massive space at this year’s event and used that presence to continue its promotional push for Google Assistant, its intelligent vocal assistant. The company revealed that the software is now running on 1 billion devices, be they smart speakers, tablets or smartphones and that crucially, the vocal concierge now boasts 500 million active monthly users.

These figures underline that while smart speakers themselves may be a passing phase – it’s worth noting here that both Google and Amazon are pivoting away from simple speakers and towards devices that incorporate a screen – voice as a human-machine interface is clearly gaining traction. For instance, supercar maker Lamborghini used this year’s event to announce its new models are now coming with Amazon Alexa built in as standard.

New features – new opportunities

This in turn means that more and more brands will be taking this channel seriously. To encourage more companies to get on board with Google Assistant, Google announced a raft of new features all of which will go live in the coming months.

The first is the ability for the assistant to read web pages in a convincing manner like a TV anchor presenting the news. It’s even smart enough to know not to read out the text on onscreen buttons for sharing or the content of ads on the page.

Another is the ability to set one-off scheduled tasks – such as call customer care, for instance.

Other new features are designed to further incorporate the screen, such as the ability to create post-it type notes on the display as visual reminders or to leave notes for the rest of the family.

As for the live translation mode Google touted at CES 2019, it confirmed this year that a number of businesses have now committed to using dedicated devices running the feature – these include HSBC Bank and American Airlines.

Delicate with data

However, the most notable new feature is focused on data and privacy. Smart speaker owners know that their devices are listening all the time, waiting to act. Now, with Google Assistant, if the device accidentally springs into action because of something that’s said, the user can now tell the device to “forget I said that” and the interaction will be deleted from the user history. 

As such, the feature got to the heart of one of the biggest themes and biggest talking points of CES 2020 – privacy and data protection. Underling its significance as the No.1 priority for any tech-enabled company wishing to move forward with the consumer on its side was Apple. The company famously steers clear of CES, favoring its own shows and announcements. However, this year Jane Horvath, its Global Privacy senior director, was there in an official capacity to take part in a panel dedicated to the topic.

Privacy by design

The discussion, also attended by Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer for Policy, Erin Egan, quickly became a sparring match between the two tech giants; each of whom constantly attempted to win the upper hand in terms of their approach to protecting customer data. The panel, which expected around 400 attendees was so oversubscribed that, according to one journalist in attendance, a second room with a live-streaming monitor had to be set up for those who couldn’t fit into the room.

During the panel, what quickly became clear is the paradox at the heart of Facebook’s business model. Even though it can rightly claim to have the same security and data protection protocols in place as Apple, its biggest revenue stream comes from aligning advertisers with consumers based on data.

So while both companies could point to examples of how they incorporate privacy by design into their products and services, only Apple can currently claim to offer its customers privacy by default – it generates its income from selling devices not customer data. However, it will be interesting to see how the company’s messaging changes as it moves further into being a service provider. Yet, even here Apple is pointing to the practice of taking randomized anonymized data for testing and understanding.

And despite its paradox, Facebook did use its presence at CES to unveil its revamped Privacy Checkup tool which the social network’s members can use to understand who can see what they’re sharing, who can find them on the platform and how to change settings and behaviors to improve privacy and security.

How does your business handle data?

The fact is, it has become impossible to do business unless your organization knows how to do data. In customer experience, it’s the difference between advocacy and churn, between delight and disappointment. However, what should also be clear is that it will soon be impossible to do business unless you have a clear message as well as a clear process in place regarding how you treat and respect that data.

This year began with the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) coming into force. It gives the state’s residents complete control of their personal data and could prove extremely expensive in terms of costs and reputation for any business that falls foul of the regulations. And more state-level data privacy laws are on their way.

At the same time, the amount of data potentially available to organizations is about to explode in volume again. Another big talking point at CES 2020 was 5G connectivity, which is coming to everything from smartphones and routers to inner-city infrastructure and of course connected cars.

It means that before decade’s end, potentially every element of the average person’s daily life will have its own internet connection and with it its own data trail.

Greater insights, greater responsibility

And while this opens up huge opportunities, especially in predictive analytics – being able to serve someone with something before they ask for it, it is also likely to spark the same sort of ethical debates that are currently engulfing the future of artificial intelligence Expect debates around this to reach a crescendo in February during the Mobile World Congress where all of the telecoms operators, and smart-device manufacturers are coming together to tout their future capabilities.

Regardless of the direction in which this debate goes, what should be abundantly clear to all consumer-facing organizations – across all verticals – is data is now an element of your brand perception. Responsible use of it is going to bring you closer to your customers and potentially turbocharge your customer experience. However, if you play fast and loose with that information, or if you don’t have robust enough policies and procedures in place, the damage to your reputation could be extremely hard to repair. 

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