Facebook's privacy issues could impact usage of its forthcoming voice assistant

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Facebook confirmed that it’s been working to develop its own voice assistant since early 2018,according to a Facebook spokesperson, per Reuters. The company says it will likely integrate the voice assistant across its Portal video calling device, Oculus headsets, and other future products.

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Here’s what it means: Facebook likely sees voice functions as necessary for its hardware and to keep its service engaging.

  • Consumers want to communicate via voice. Half (50%) of BI Insiders from our proprietarypanel, who tend to be tech-savvy early adopters, cited the ability to call or text someone as the activity they’re most excited about performing via voice, per Business Insider Intelligence’s New Tech Survey. Although our data isn’t representative of the general population, we think it provides a strong indicator of what voice assistant experiences consumers desire. A voice assistant would enhance the calling and messaging experiences for the company’s family of social apps since they’d all likely integrate this functionality.
  • Voice functionality will remove some of the friction to use its hardware. Products like the company’s Oculus headsets need a voice assistant to complete the experience and avoid clunky virtual keyboards and menu screens. Virtual keyboards require users to click keys one-by-one to search for content, which takes much longer than speaking. Additionally, voice assistants are necessary for the company’s Portal video devices, which currently rely on Amazon’s Alexa, especially if the company ever decides to launch a screenless device.
  • The company has to implement a voice assistant to prevent customer migration to voice-centric platforms. Consumers like to use voice assistants to access news and podcasts: 20% of BI Insiders from our proprietarypanel cited the ability to listen to a book or story as an activity they’re excited about performing via voice, per Business Insider Intelligence’s New Tech Survey. This is currently a problem for Facebook since time spent interacting in voice-oriented activities is time not spent with the company’s platforms. By introducing its own voice assistant, the company can attempt to retain consumers who might otherwise leave Facebook for voice-enabled platforms like smart speakers for these activities.
  • It adds another stream of consumer data for Facebook to monetize. A voice assistant will provide the company with additional relevant data that it can use to serve users across all its offerings with more relevant, targeted ads.

The bigger picture: Facebook’s entrance into the crowded voice space, combined with its privacy issues, could impact usage of its voice assistant.

  • Facebook hasn’t proven trustworthy for consumers. Facebook has encountered a continuous stream of reputationalissues centered around users’ data and privacy. Without a trustworthy reputation, consumers will doubtfully bring a Facebook-powered voice assistant into their lives and homes. For instance, 84% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company in the smart home space that has a reputation for data security and privacy,according to a survey conducted by BlackBerry.
  • It will face competition from long-established voice assistants. Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google’s Assistant have been in the voice assistant space for years now, and have had the time to garner massive, loyal user segments for a range of supported devices. This will make it difficult for Facebook to build up its voice assistant’s user base as97% of smart speaker households are loyal to only one voice assistant.

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