Worried about your car’s personal assistant eavesdropping? You’re not alone.

  • With a background in journalism and marketing, I’m passionate about writing stories that connect people to the world of automotive. I currently work as a marketing researcher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. When I’m not crafting content about the automotive industry, you can find me making music, reading, and writing creatively.

can be reached at elizabeth.saulsbury@coxautoinc.com
  • With a background in journalism and marketing, I’m passionate about writing stories that connect people to the world of automotive. I currently work as a marketing researcher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. When I’m not crafting content about the automotive industry, you can find me making music, reading, and writing creatively.

can be reached at elizabeth.saulsbury@coxautoinc.com
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“Alexa, help me find the nearest gas station.”

“Hey Siri, where is the quickest place to get coffee near me?”

“OK Google, resume my podcast.”

“Hey Cortana, what does traffic look like on the way to work?”

The use cases for virtual assistants in cars are as wide as the imagination. And notably, Ride.tech’s Nick Jaynes pointed out in a recent article that ordering a Domino’s pizza from the driver’s seat is just on the horizon as well.

What a delicious future is in store for us.

But that’s not to say that this brave new world of convenience doesn’t have its own set of risks. In a world where virtual assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home still seem vaguely like something from The Twilight Zone, it’s understandable that people might have privacy worries about these little artificial intelligence (AI)-powered geniuses.

Stop Listening To Me HAL

Artificial intelligence interface in a car
There’s no question that virtual personal assistants have the potential to make driving easier and even safer. But how will drivers feel about sharing their vehicle with an artificial intelligence entity?

A 2018 Cox Automotive research study of consumers’ online shopping habits and preferences revealed that the most common concern about both voice search devices and virtual assistants relates to privacy. Specifically, many people are afraid that their devices could be eavesdropping on their conversations or that their devices could be hacked, resulting in the loss of personal information.

These concerns aren’t unfounded. Many of us have experienced the eerie sensation of talking to a friend or family member about a product or company, then seeing sponsored social media ads for the same product or company soon afterwards. It seems a little naive to believe that’s a coincidence.

Then too, there’s the crop of news reports about virtual assistants gone wrong. For example, there’s the 2018 story in which an Oregon woman’s conversations were being recorded by her Echo Dot and being sent to a random person in another state. And it’s hard to shake all the accounts about Alexa devices creepily laughing in the middle of the night (thought they’re more urban legends than anything).

These fears about privacy invasions and all the unknowns about AI will extend to the world of automotive as well. As this technology becomes commonplace in vehicles, will drivers be comfortable with the idea of a virtual assistant riding along with them? Or will privacy concerns become that much more prevalent?

The responsibility will fall on both artificial intelligence developers and vehicle manufacturers to mitigate privacy concerns and to ensure that the presence of virtual assistants in cars is a helpful feature for drivers – not a source of worry.

Already, BMW appears to be one of the trendsetters in this field. BMW has created an in-car virtual assistant (aptly named BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant) that drivers can activate with the words “Hey BMW.” Fueled by BMW’s new operating system 7.0, a basic version of the Intelligent Personal Assistant with voice control is available in new BMW models as of last month. A press release from BMW stated that the assistant’s capabilities include the ability to acquire a personality and expertise on BMW features.

“BMW’s Intelligent Personal Assistant learns routines and habits, and is subsequently able to apply them in the appropriate context. He helps the driver, learns their preferences and is familiar with their favoured settings – e.g. for the seat heating or the places they drive to frequently using the navigation system (“Take me home”). One unique feature over other digital assistants is that drivers can give him a name (for example, “Charlie” or “Joy”) to lend him even greater individuality and personality. Not only does the Intelligent Personal Assistant await the driver’s every command, he is always there to assist them and even provide casual conversation. The arrival of the BMW Intelligent Personal Assistant ensures there is always a genuine BMW professional on board.”

Given these and all the other exciting virtual assistant innovations taking place across the automotive industry, drivers can certainly look forward to their commutes becoming an even more pleasurable and personalized experience.

Sources:

  • “The Future of Online Shopping.” Cox Automotive Research & Market Intelligence Group. September 2018.
  • “Little did she know, Alexa was recording every word she said.” NBC News. May 2018.
  • “Is Amazon’s Alexa creepily laughing for no apparent reason?” Snopes. March 2018.
  • “Hey BMW, now we’re talking! BMWs are about to get a personality with the company’s Intelligent Personal Assistant.” BMW Corporate Communications. September 2018.

About the Author

  • With a background in journalism and marketing, I’m passionate about writing stories that connect people to the world of automotive. I currently work as a marketing researcher for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. When I’m not crafting content about the automotive industry, you can find me making music, reading, and writing creatively.

can be reached at elizabeth.saulsbury@coxautoinc.com
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