It’s Not Her Fault: Trust through Anthropomorphism among Young Adult Amazon Alexa Users

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Voice assistants (VAs) like Amazon Alexa have been integrated into hundreds of millions of homes, despite persistent public distrust of the company. The current literature explains the spread of voice assistants despite the low levels of trust in big technology companies through users’ limited concern about or even resignation to surveillance. Through in-depth, semi-structured interviews (n=16) we explore how young adult Alexa users make sense of continuing to use the VA while generally distrusting Amazon. We identify three strategies that participants use to manage distrust: separating the VA from the company through anthropomorphism, expressing digital resignation, and occasionally taking action, like moving Alexa away from a particular location or even unplugging it. We argue that these individual-level strategies allow users to integrate Alexa into domestic life, despite their concerns. We conclude by discussing the implications these individual choices have for personal privacy and the rapid expansion of surveillance technologies into intimate life.

Ryan Watkins