Consider the ethical aspects of voice command tech
Consider the ethical aspects of voice command tech
02 DECEMBER 2016 8:23 AM

Voice command technology is an amazing and developing field and could potentially find a place in hotels, but think beyond the coolness to what it could mean for guest privacy.

The new voice command technology available today for consumers is amazing, so it’s with some confidence I can estimate that what comes out within the next 10 years could easily blow our minds.

Though variations of it existed prior to its (her?) introduction, Apple’s Siri on iPhones essentially put voice command for somewhat everyday use into anyone’s hands. We got used to the concept of being able to push a button and either ask a question or request a limited action and then getting an answer or the task completed. It was cool, even if for most people it was generally a novelty in the early stages.

Now we have things like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home, home voice assistants you can use for any number of things, such as home automation, news consumption, scheduling or shopping. How far away are we from living like the Jetsons? (Pretty far actually, as personal jetpacks aren’t in mass production.)

As I said before, technology-wise, this is pretty cool stuff. There are definitely ways hotels can take advantage of this technology, either through the products commercially available now or through the concept of voice command/voice assistants. Every room could potentially have its own mini concierge, right?

But consider this: Voice command technology like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home mean that someone—or something—is always listening. Sure, there’s an activation phrase involved, but essentially anyone who owns and uses products like these has a listening device that pays attention to whatever he or she says in order to activate upon the correct phrase. Does anyone else find this at least a little bit creepy?

Remember the shock, however brief, the public felt when they learned that Apple recorded every question or command its customers said when using Siri? The company line was that recording, storing and reviewing what people said and how they used Siri allowed them to improve the program and how it worked. That certainly makes sense, but it’s also a little disappointing that Apple didn’t make that aspect of using Siri 100% clear to users ahead of time.

Hoteliers are already looking for ways to use technology to improve and better personalize their guests’ stays. Profiling guests is a great way to anticipate needs and make guests happier, but all this new personal data hotels gather about guests opens up some privacy and data security concerns.

Consider this hypothetical: If a hotel were to have some form of voice assistant in its rooms available for guests’ use, how would hoteliers use the data collected from that? It certainly would help them personalize a guest’s stay, but what actually happens with the recordings and data? Are they stored away somewhere in a server or cloud service? Are they attached to a guest’s personal profile within the company’s databases? What if there is a data breach and hackers gain access to this information?

Similarly, it seems within the realm of possibility that someone could hack into a voice assistant to make it record all noises it picks up, which would include guests’ conversations in the room not intended for the voice assistant. While unnerving, that might not present as big a problem for leisure guests, but what about business executives, government employees or even foreign dignitaries staying at the hotel? There’s a good chance they’d prefer not to have in-room conversations recorded and listened to by a third party.

I’m not saying don’t use voice command technology in your hotels. I’m encouraging you to think about it before you do. The technology isn’t going away; in fact, it’s likely to improve and become more integrated into our lives as it evolves. It opens the door to a new realm of possibilities, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that guest privacy is still an important aspect of hospitality, and that includes privacy from the very hotels at which guests stay.

Is this a topic that concerns you? Have an interesting perspective that I didn’t include? Let me know. You can reach me at and at @HNN_Bryan. I look forward to hearing from you.

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