Voice technology is on the rise, but privacy concerns linger: Mindshare study

Canadians are increasingly adopting voice technology, but are largely limiting their interactions with smart speakers to mundane tasks like playing music or asking fun questions, and concerns about privacy are still prevalent, according to a new study from Mindshare.

The Voice in Canada report is based on a survey of 1,300 Canadians conducted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.

Smart speakers are once again expected to be a popular gift this holiday season, while research firm eMarketer predicted earlier this year that nearly 18% of the Canadian population—about 6.7 million people—will use one of the devices by 2020.

However, the Mindshare study also suggests that many Canadians have a “what’s the point?” attitude towards voice, and are unnerved by the idea that they are constantly monitoring them.

“Voice seems to be a gimmick still and while adoption has increased, the world of shopping with our voice hasn’t appeared,” says Mindshare’s chief strategy officer, Sarah Thompson. “In fact, people are concerned about privacy and trust as they wonder ‘Is it listening?’

“For marketers, this means [a need] to really ensure the SEO foundation is solid and not go down a path of creating voice services that consumers aren’t ready for—being ahead of their needs could be an expensive investment.”

Use of voice-activated technologies such as Siri and Google Home rose by 42% this year, with 88% of Canadians indicating that they use the technology at least once per week. They are attracted to the services’ combination of convenience, ease of use and the fact they are faster than typing in queries.

More than one-quarter (28%) of English Canadians say they use voice technology more than twice a day, compared with 23% of French Canadians, while 44% of English Canadians and 38% of French Canadians use it at least once a day. Mindshare says that the discrepancy is likely due to the lack of broader availability of French services and content.

But Canadians continue to be concerned about their privacy, their misgivings no doubt exacerbated by headlines like “Why Amazon Alexa is always listening to your conversations” and “Google workers are eavesdropping on your private conversations via its smart speakers.”

While “I don’t see the point” was the most common response by Canadians about why they don’t use voice technology, 50% of English Canadians indicated that it is a violation of their privacy, and 44% feel it is monitoring them all the time. Interestingly, those numbers are both markedly lower among French Canadians: 29% and 34% respectively.

There are also distinct differences in which services Canadians prefer, with English Canadians gravitating towards Siri and French Canadians tending to prefer Google. While Amazon’s Alexa made gains this year, its use it is markedly lower among both English and French Canadians.

Canadians have shown a reluctance to use voice for shopping, however, with only 8% of English Canadians and 12% of French Canadians indicating that they are using voice to purchase products they have browsed elsewhere. Those numbers drop to 6% and 8% respectively when it comes to purchasing products they have not looked up previously.

Asking questions is the most common activity among both English and French Canadians (an activity used by 45% and 31% respectively), with Mindshare suggesting that brands need to be aware how Canadians are searching for their brand.


Chris Powell