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Are they spying? Young people wary of virtual assistants

Getting hacked, spied on and having their data stolen are worries shared by young consumers when it comes to using virtual assistants, according to new research by Maintel.

The research shows more than a third (37%) of 18-24 year olds currently use a voice assistant such as Amazons Alexa, Apples Siri or Google assistant to contact companies for assistance or to make a complaint. However, high-profile data breaches in recent months could explain why young people are worried about their device being hacked or their data exploited without their permission.

Even though younger generations tend to be the most tech-savvy, 41% of 18-24 year olds and 39% of 25-34 year olds are still wary about using a virtual assistant to liaise with their current providers (such as a bank, utility provider or insurance company) because they worry that they could be hacked, according to Maintel.

This is even more obvious when it comes to sharing private information via a virtual assistant as almost a third (32%) of 18-24 year olds say that they wouldnt feel at all comfortable transferring money to and from their bank account via a virtual assistant on a smart device. More than four in ten (41%) of 18-34 year olds also worry that their smart devices are always on and listening to their conversations, which could explain why they are more reluctant to use voice assistants to contact companies about customer service issues.

According to the research, over half (54%) of 25-34 year olds wouldnt use a virtual assistant to contact a service provider or company such as a bank, utility company or insurer.

Almost a third (31%) of 18-24 year olds worry that someone could overhear them giving a service provider confidential information. This is surprisingly higher than those aged 65 and above, with only 29% admitting that they were worried about this issue.

The research revealed that over half (52%) of 18-24 year olds and four in ten (40%) of 25-34 year olds wouldnt feel comfortable using voice assistants to pay a utility bill. This figure increases with age, with 54% of 35-44 year olds and 63% of 45-54 year olds admitting that they wouldnt feel comfortable using this kind of technology to pay a utility bill.

Almost half (49%) of 35-44 year olds wouldnt feel comfortable complaining about customer service to their bank via a voice assistant. This is much higher than the younger generations with 41% of 25-34 year olds and 44% of 18-24 year olds admitting that they would feel comfortable using this kind of technology.

The research indicates that there is a wider feeling of reluctance amongst consumers of all ages when it comes to engaging with virtual or voice platforms. Almost two thirds (59%) of consumers dont own a smart device (such as a smart TV, smart speaker or mobile apps) with access to a virtual assistant and almost half of consumers (46%) have no intention of using these channels to contact a service provider. Out of this group, a surprisingly high percentage of young people (54% of 18-24 year olds) said that they did not use a virtual assistant via Amazons Alex, Siri or Google Assistant and they had no intention of buying one.

"Despite many young people being early adopters of the very latest technology, their concerns about the use of virtual assistants in their everyday lives are very real," says Rufus Grig, chief technology officer, Maintel.

"They are clearly aware of some of the implications of using connected devices to contact service providers and this is going to have a knock-on effect on the uptake of this kind of technology," he explains. 

"While the introduction of GDPR has had an impact on the amount of data companies collect, young consumers are still wary about the role technology plays in our lives.  Companies have to work even harder to build the trust of their customers by providing personalised experiences and this also applies to the services provided via voice assistants."