Google Home’s most important feature is …surveillance

…at least according to the comments on zeit.de


I looked at about 180 comments (on August 10th) published below a Google Home review on the German news website Zeit.de. This lead to 262 classifications of which eight were positive, 25 neutral, 102 negative and 126 irrelevant.

Positive expressions: features, but gimmick

People’s attitude towards it was positve mostly because of its features. However, some do see its potential but do not believe that it will evolve beyond a gimmick.

Neutral expressions: concerns about data privacy are unjustified

As seen below in the negative expressions, people were highly concerned with data privacy. However, some argued that it does not matter whether we allow Google Home to collect data in our houses, as Google (& Co.) already know everything about us through other sources. These other sources are not only the “usual suspects” (GAFA, official institutions, etc.) but also more “unobvious” instances like neighbors (😳). In this context (“they already know everything”) people’s hypocrite attitude was criticized; on the one side they are against Google Home but use all kinds of other related devices and services.

Negative expressions

Concerns: Surveillance, social isolation, government responsibility, device ecosystem

Google Home as self-imposed surveillance, connected to the NSA and similar to the Stasi
Of the 102 negative expressions, about 40 per cent dealt with surveillance. People were opposed to Google Home because they perceived it as a surveillance device. Furthermore, some viewed it as voluntary surveillance, related it to the Stasi (one user proposed to call it “Stasi 2.0”) or NSA (“inviting the NSA into our homes”) and raised surveillance concerns about visiting people owning a Google Home devices.
Similarly, one or two comments considered their home their sanctuary and do not want anybody besides themselves controlling it. I find that a fascinating perspective because it deals with the topic at such a deep personal level; similarly to how people perceive that autonomous cars take away their freedom, they view Google Home as taking control away from them.

Product features hardly relevant
The product side was only mentioned four times, namely in the context of incompatibility with accessories and high costs of those, maintenance and the speaker’s technical immatureness. Opposed to that, there were also a few people who couldn’t see the devices’ value or disliked it because for them Google Home is not about getting more done, but increasing consumption. Maybe most unexpectedly, some commentators disliked it because of a general aversion towards talking to machines.

Increasing dependency on technology leading to stultification
Although not many mentions (around five), people were concerned about the increasing reliance on technology resulting from Google Home. Whereas this is a common concern related to any new technology, there was one particularly interesting thought; one user questioned if with people will start being ok with not knowing when the device itself does not have the answer to the question they were are asking, especially as the device does not recommend looking somewhere else for an answer[1]. I have no idea how far the “not knowing issue” will go, but if we “have” a Google effect, we should at least consider the possibility of having an “Alexa effect” in the future as well.

Conclusion

Although I did not expect surveillance to be discussed in the comments, I was not surprised when I read the first comment. I was, however, surprised by the amount of comments related to surveillance. I do not have much understanding of people’s general attitude towards surveillance but the ubiquitous usage of GAFA-services and devices tells me that people do not really care. I do perceive increased medial interest in that topic, but I doubt that it will be a diffusion hindrances in the long run. It might slow it down but I doubt that privacy is going to stop the proliferation of voice at home. I really think that in the long run comfort will trump privacy. If news around security breaches, surveillance, data privacy, and Co. decrease over time (which I expect to happen), digital assistants increase in “value” and voice as an interface gains even more in acceptance, I expect the discussion to shift from surveillance to features and then eventually to quality/brands… .


[1] The German original: “Und werden die User sich bald damit zufrieden geben ‘etwas’ nicht zu wissen? Das Gerät macht ja nicht den Vorschlag anderweitig nachzuschauen.”

Featured Image’s Source: https://store.google.com/us/product/google_home?hl=en-US

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