What Is Voice Search: A Trick Or Treat?

This blog post was written by one of the newest additions to the Content Team, Isobel Hawker.


OK Google, what is voice search? And is it really a good idea? The recent explosion of virtual personal assistants has sparked a divide between their supporters and their sceptics. We need to ask ourselves, what is voice search? And what exactly are the risks? In an increasingly privacy-conscious world, people are concerned that technology has gone one step too far, and maybe they’re right. So, whether you’re Team Invasive or Team Innovative, here are some uncomfortable truths about voice search.

The most recent controversy erupted earlier this month, when users found that the new Google Home Mini, another voice-activated Google Assistant, was sending thousands of unrequested recordings a day to Google’s servers. Consumers trust that in welcoming the Google Home Mini into their lives, they can be certain that it will only start listening when you say the magic words, ‘OK Google’. To their horror, some owners of the device saw recordings were being taken almost 24/7, as the Google Home Mini wrongly sensed its touch-activation feature was being triggered. Google responded by releasing an update to solve the problem and prevent touch activation, but the incident leaves us contemplating the risks of voice search. In an age when phone-hacking scandals make news history, and data protection is on everybody’s mind, why are we voluntarily paying for our homes to be bugged by the likes of Google and Microsoft?

And that’s not all. Almost everybody is questioning the morals of intrusive ad campaigns which take advantage of voice activation. In April of this year, Burger King infamously released an advert that triggered our Google devices to search for the Whopper online. Through the simple line ‘OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?’, Burger King invaded our homes and hijacked our screens with the product’s Wikipedia page. It left us asking what is voice search’s role in advertising and how can we prevent other brands using similar tactics? Even though Burger King quickly revoked the campaign, it won’t be long before other companies make similar, subtler efforts to tap into these methods.

Supporters of voice search maintain that its efficient and intelligent technology makes it a must-have for future lifestyle trends. It succeeds in targeting both business and personal use, and its home devices are certainly increasing in popularity. At Google’s annual conference last year, CEO Sundar Pichai claimed that 20% of searches on Google’s app were done via voice search. Sure enough, the novelty of asking Siri to marry you is starting to wear off, and long gone are the days of clumsy and ineffective voice search conversations on our iPhone 4S. Now, no one can deny the increasingly high quality of the technology being developed.

So how do we come to terms with its unavoidable issues? Everybody is aware of the risks surrounding technology and privacy, and voice search seems to make these even more apparent. If the ability to arrange our calendars by talking to a machine comes at the price of potentially allowing access to our personal lives, is it really worth it?

Technology companies are grappling with this clash as we speak, and we can only hope they provide some answers soon.


Isobel Hawker