Giving Mom a digital assistant for Mother’s Day?

            Your busy Mom might appreciate the gift of a digital assistant this Mother’s Day, but the convenience of a device like Siri, Alexa, HomePod, Google Home and Amazon Echo comes with a downside.

            The small, smart devices respond to voice commands and perform tasks like playing Mom’s favorite music, turning on other smart appliances, making grocery lists and ordering items from Amazon.

            The time-savers are hands-free and, if they’re left on all the time, are at the ready whenever Mom wants to place an online order, set a timer, get a news update or hear a joke. If the device is paired with other smart home devices, it can turn on the lights and lock the doors, too, all at Mom’s request.

             But every time a voice-activated smart speaker answers a question, fills a request, places an order or reminds Mom of an appointment, it collects and stores a little bit of information about her. Google, Amazon or whichever company operates the device can use that data to target Mom with relevant advertising based on what she has spoken to it.

            A few other drawbacks worth considering before delivering a digital assistant as a gift:

  • The devices don’t always know who is talking to them. So it’s possible for children to place orders without Mom’s permission.
  • Background sounds from the TV and nearby conversations can potentially trigger unwanted online purchases.
  • Voices from conversations can prompt the digital assistant to take an unexpected action or speak a response.
  • At least one user has reported that a device dialed a phone number without the user’s knowledge—and the party on the other end overheard a private conversation.

Best bet: Before you buy, weigh the considerable convenience of using a digital assistant against potential security and privacy risks.