Smart Speaker: Crazy or Creepy?

Smart Speaker: Crazy or Creepy?

“Ok Google, turn on the light of the living room”, here is one of my first sentences when I get home. Like many people, I gave in to the temptation of the must-have gadget of a smart speaker for Christmas.

After seducing 19,7% of the total US.population, smart speaker have arrived massively on the French market. Google was the first on the French market in 2017 with Google Home. Amazon joined him in 2018 with the Echo speaker range, quickly followed by Apple and HomePod.

All these products have in common that they are connected to the Internet via WiFi and have a virtual assistant capable of answering oral questions. With their synthetic voice, they promise to make life easier by providing access to a multitude of services faster and more naturally than by typing on a smartphone’s virtual keyboard.

But it is important to have some understanding in mind before buying it because it might also be a threat to privacy. Instead of comparing all features offers by those smart speakers here are some question I asked myself before purchasing my Google Home.

Are they real value added technology?

Smart Speaker Features

  • Access to certain features faster than on a mobile phone

“Alexa, launches episode 2 of Season 3 of Orange is the New Black” or “Hey Siri, plays my favorite playlist” “Okay Google, turn on the TV on M6”. These are some easy commands to execute if you have a subscription to Netflix or a Spotify account.

  • Plan your daily life

“Okay Google, what are my appointments today?” The smart speaker will state the elements listed in your Google Calendar. It can also wake you up at a pre-defined time with the sound of birds, then gives you the weather report and the latest news.

  • Control connected objects in the house

Turning on the light, managing the thermostat, open your shutters, etc. Be careful, it’s necessary to check beforehand that your devices are compatible with the speaker. You will also need to be very patient with the configuration. Once these pitfalls are done, it’s possible to program your object. For example, opening your shutters at 8 o’clock; turn on the light of your bedroom at 8:10 o’clock and turn on the coffee machine at 8:15 by simply saying “Hey Siri, hello”.  Freaky or not?

This new technology will help us know everything whenever we need it. Announced as our digitized future, information is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

What can’t they do?

The smart speakers are still imperfect because no one is perfect, isn’t it? Sometimes you have to ask them several times to make yourself understood, especially when you are asking for foreign music.

Those connected speakers are not able to hold a conversion like a real human yet. It is better to use the lists proposed by each company (Google, Amazon, Apple) to be sure to be understood.

Are they spies in the middle of your living room?

smart speaker privacy

Installed in a corner of your living room, the connected speakers are a new gateway for Amazon, Google and Apple. It allows them to propose their services directly to their consumers’ home and to learn more about their habits and their behavior.

Before purchasing this type of product, it’s necessary to keep in mind that it is an Internet-connected device equipped with several microphones. They are normally in standby and are activated only when the keywords of the smart speaker are spoken, such as “Alexa”. Despite this precaution, there is a risk of hacking, as with any connected object on wifi.

Several episodes of involuntary activation of their microphones have already been shown in the news. For example, Washington station KIRO 7 was contacted by an American couple that had their conversation recorded and transmitted to one of their employees in Seattle by an Amazon speaker.

This isn’t the first time Alexa has gone wrong. Users of Amazon’s digital assistant, have reported their Echos were laughing at them for no apparent reason.

Those type of incident can be very dangerous with regard to the data collected by these devices. Those speakers collect lots of information about the business habits and behaviors of their users. The data tell a lot about their private lives.

How to limit their intrusiveness?

smart speaker security

If you are sensitive to these connected objects, it is possible to limit their intrusiveness by respecting certain elementary principles. Here are some advice given by The French personal data protection authority:

  • Turn off the microphone when you are not using your speaker or when you receive friends.
  • Regularly delete the history of your conversations
  • Don’t give the responsibility for sensitive functions such as alarms or locks.

These easy tips will protect you in case of hacking or malfunctioning. Therefore, you have to be aware that when you ask something to these speakers, they select the information sources of the answers for you. While your computer or smartphone offer you several sources each time. The selection of the answer may influence you.

In the ideal connected home, humans could converse easily and safely with their digital personal assistants, asking them for a whole range of services. Collecting our data allow them to deliver more targeted services and improve the quality of the services we get from our virtual assistants but is it really worth losing our privacy?

Smart Speaker: Crazy or Creepy?

How can Internet of things and privacy be reconciled?

The French personal data protection authority recently sentenced a company specialized in the sale of connected toys and serves formal notice to cease serious breach of privacy and safety deficiencies. Two toys controlled by the authority were identified as unsafe. They enable mobile devices to connect with the toysthrough the wireless technology standard Bluetooth, as soon as the mobile devices are less than 9 meters away from the toys, regardless of whether or not they are outside the building.

Security concerns go beyond this specific case: Google has also been accused of listening users all the time and stores all their conversations by leaving their new smart speaker secretly

recording everything. In a world where the sale of Internet of things (IoT) are constantly increasing – a study estimates that there will be between 50 and 80 billions Internet of things in 2020 – these practices raise serious privacy considerations.

But firstly, what is IoT?

It could be defined as a network of internet-connected objects able to collect, process and exchange data using embedded sensors capable of receiving and giving instructions, such as Google Glasses and Home, Apple Watch, and Smart thermostats. IoT became a buzzword because of its promise to change the way we live and make our lives more comfortable. We will now be able to turn the air conditioner by using your smartphone before getting home from work without having to wait for your house to cool.There inevitably is a counterpart.


Connected devices: a solution for e-heath?

According to Gartner by the end of this year, there will be more than 8,4 billion connected devices, up to 34 % in one year. By 2020 this number will go up to 20,4 billion. IoT is everywhere in our everyday life from a fridge to an aircraft engine.

Let’s focus on connected devices for e-health, one of the potential impact identified by McKinsey. Let’s focus on France, as this country has a unique mix of international companies in health, insurance and bank sector, and competitive start-ups such as Sigfox. France also faces the challenge of the transformation of its health system.

A fragmented market

According to Xerfi, the French market is too fragmented to be comprehensive for both health companies and patients. The emergence of a viable market will rely on the capabilities of the health and insurance companies to develop complementary ecosystems and on steady funding coming from the public authorities, from private equity and the end-user.

Connected devices, what for?

Nowadays, fitness connected devices are becoming quite popular moving in a few years from trendy X-mas presents to promotional objects that can be found in a gas station. 

Does it mean that these devices are adopted? Not that sure. The quantified self-movement seems to fall short as the other part of the story is missing. What to do with the data collected after the wearable devices have been bought?

In fact, the use of the connected devices is only of a few weeks, as the medical support is lacking.

The use of connected devices mainly remained for personal use except for some purposes as the follow-up of chronic illness.

No scientific proofs yet

According to Dr Jean-Gabriel Jeannot, a Swiss doctor and curator of the blog Medicalinfo, the scientific proofs confirming that connected devices improving our health do not exist yet.

Have you heard about Julián Ríos Cantú, a young Mexican whose mother had breast cancer? He has discovered the connected bra that can detect breast cancers. Once the storytelling vanished, the reality is a little different: the pink bra displayed on media is only a computer-generated image.

A study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that « among young adults with a BMI between 25 and less than 40, the addition of a wearable technology device to a standard behavioural intervention resulted in less weight loss over 24 months. Devices that monitor and provide feedback on physical activity may not offer an advantage over standard behavioural weight loss approaches. »

Another study conducted by Stanford University school of medicine showed that « fitness trackers accurately measure heart rate but not calories burned » with errors ranging from 27 % to 93 %.

There is a difference between fitness devices and e-health connected devices.

Does connectivity help the doctor-patient relationship?

Two studies co-conducted by Christian Terwiesh, a Wharton professor of operations, information and decisions, showed that connectivity could hurt the doctor-patient relationship, but solutions can be founded to turn around.

The conclusions of the first study on the impact of e-visits on primary care were unexpected:  « patients are using it more, and not only is that taking up more doctor time, but that leaves less time for doctors to see other patients. »

But the second study raises hope with three levers of actions identified to turn around some of those adverse effects:

    – Rethinking the patient-centred medical home by empowering non-physicians to do certain things but without going to the physician. The connected devices could be the data link in a paperless approach;

    – using algorithms to sort out the medical data collected through connected devices to sort out what is clinically relevant;

    – using machine learning to give the patient more autonomy in a self-service approach.

Connectivity offers real opportunities for rethinking the relation doctor-patient relationship.

How much would you sell your data?

In the latest report Connected Life 2018, Kantar TNS reports that French consumers are somewhat sceptical about digital as being more and more conscious about the price to pay to use connected devices. Thus, more than half (57 %) of them oppose the connected devices entirely with the measurement of their activities, even if they facilitate their everyday life and 51% of them are worried by the quantity about personal information.

In September 2017, Kaspersky Lab opened a pop-store in east London’s old street station. Prints and merchandise by street artist Ben Eine could be bought with personal data as a currency. This social experiment is very instructive.

Cyber attack threats on personal data

Companies and States are today under the threat of cyber attacks. This is taken seriously by European and French authorities. 

Europol and ENISA jointly set-up a dedicated two-day conference (18-19 October 2017) on the security challenges of IoT. It was reported that more than 250 participants from the private sector, security community, law enforcement, the European Computer Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) community and academia.

The French authority, the « CNIL », has to define personal data as « any information relating to an identified or identifiable individual ». The GPDR law data protection will be enforced on May, 25th 2018. The penalty for a company is up to 20 millions euros or 4 % of worldwide annual turnover.

To conclude

Connected devices are part of the solution to the social issues France faces about the transformation of its health system. A technological solution that shares vital information: personal data.

To foster patients’ trust and turn this endeavour into a success, one should ensure that the data embedded in these systems is highly protected.



Link Simpson CDW Networking August 31st, 2017. “The Right IoT Consultant Is Key for a Successful Digital Transformation”. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed on April 24th, 2018]; DNAFit Blog. “Do You Have To Do 10 000 Steps A Day?”. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed on April 24th, 2018]; Wharton Health Economics Podcasts September 26th, 2017. “Does Connectivity Help  or Hurt the Doctor-Patient Relationship?”. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed on April 24th, 2018]; Billington Cyber security blog. “IoT and Security: Europe’s Perspective”. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed on April 24th, 2018]

Autonomous Cars – the new Personal Mobility

Autonomous Cars – the new Personal Mobility

Personal mobility will change in the future. Many younger people will not have a driver license anymore. One futurist who is looking on the movements of car makers and who tries to predict the new mobility is Mario Herger (@mherger; #thelastdriverlicenseholder). He is Austrian but lived the last 14 years in the Silicon Valley in October 2017 he had a presentation about autonomous cars in Zurich. One important part in his presentation was the disruption of cars ecosystem. I would like to show part of his thoughts about how the environment around the cars and their mobility system will change in the common years.
Last September I was in San Francisco and I have seen also several autonomous cars on the street. Many equipped with car engineers who tries to enhance their current algorithms and to improve the software.


Smart Speaker: Crazy or Creepy?

How is digital going to change our experience in retail stores?

Traditional shopping is in transition: virtual reality applications, Ipad for sales persons, virtual fitting rooms, etc. Currently, the new trend is to have high-tech equipment in stores to better answer customers’ needs. People under 35 years old buy more online but they still like in-store physical experience. That’s why it’s important today for brands to think online and offline together in one 360° strategy. This will improve the customer experience. This experience is called “Phygital”, a fusion between “physical” and “digital”. It’s a marketing term used when a brand brings digital in store in order to create a homogeneous experience with the customer (for example with an Intelligent Mirror). The goal is to attract new consumers and develop the business strategy.

What is an Intelligent Mirror?

Intelligent mirror-retail-stores-digital-agnes mantel

A smart mirror is an high-tech mirror which works with virtual reality. People can look at their reflexion in the mirror and interact with the digital touch screen. This mirror works with other technologies like RFID for example: Radio Frequency Identification. It’s a technology put on store products that allows the company to identify the product, to see its journey in the shop and even know the stock levels on this reference.

The case of luxury brands:

Ralph Lauren

In its New York Flagship the brand has decided to install intelligent mirrors, created by a retail tech company, Oak Labs. Mirrors are able to recognize clothes consumers bring in the fitting room and to display them on the digital screen.

The mirror can offer other sizes and colors of the product. Also, additional clothes are recommended to wear with the product to have the perfect outfit. These screens can also display the stock and the exact place in the shop where the product can be found. Furthermore, sales persons have a tablet and consumers can directly click on the digital screen to call one. This new technology is totally changing our traditional in-store experience. Plus, for the moment, between November 2015 and April 2016, the brand has generated with these smart mirrors an engagement rate of 90%.

Watch this video to see in images how does it really works in Ralph Lauren’s fitting rooms. The Oak labs CEO and founder, Healey Cypher, presented it.

Rebeca Minkoff

This luxury brand in New York has also decided to use this new technology in order to offer the best luxurious and customised services. They put an interactive screen at the entry of the shop, which displays the collections, consumers can order a tea or coffee and also virtually try outfits. If they decide to really try clothes they just have to validate their shopping bag. This selection is automatically sent to sales persons who will have to collect clothes and prepare the fitting room. At the end, consumers can pay from the fitting / waiting room on their comfortable chair. People are more likely to buy if the service is customised and fast. The brand told that they have multiplied by three the excepted level of sales, in less than one year.

Other functionalities of the Intelligent Mirror:

  • Possibility to change the light of the fitting room to see you in different hours of the day: nightclub, day, evening, etc.
  • Call a stylist to receive advice or suggestions to complete the outfit
  • Record option: creation of little videos of the consumer trying the outfit. Possibility to share it on social networks or send it on your phone. This is an important point, because mostly everyone asks advices to friends or family before buying clothes. Furthermore, for a brand, succeed in making the consumer sharing its content is one of the goal of social networks strategy.
  • No need to try all the colors of clothes to see which one fits you better, with this intelligent mirror, you can see you in moves wearing the outfit in all colors. Watch this video to see concretely this last point (min 00:39).

  • Availability to save your selection and then order at home on the website.

To conclude, what does it bring to companies?

First of all, these connected fitting rooms improve the customer experience in-store (personalization, speed of purchase, interactivity, etc). It also permits to the brand to place product she wants. At a logistics level, it helps the shop to better know its stock and to avoid consumers always asking if they have one item. This information is given to the client. Moreover, the brand can collect data on the consumer (phone number, social networks, purchases,…) but mostly on the products. In fact, companies with this technology are able to know exactly the conversion rate on each item; the time consumers spent trying it, etc. All these stats are really important for the company to improve its offer.

To conclude, the future is to integrate high-tech equipment in store, it’s one of the new growth lever. Few brands, mostly in cosmetics (Sephora’s Flagship for example), have already a digital screen in store in order to look products or connect to a personal interface. Watch this video (min 00:20) :

If you want to go further:

The gamification is a new digital trend that is mostly used by brands with virtual reality. You can read my previous article on it here: How gamification can contribute to customer loyalty to digital?