It’s Not Her Fault: Trust, Resignation, and Anthropomorphism Among Young Adult Alexa Users

Speaker
Professor Ekaterina Hertog
Event date
Event time
13:00 - 14:00
Venue
Institute for Ethics in AI (in-person and online)
Faculty of Philosophy
Radcliffe Observatory Quarter
Oxford
OX2 6GG
Venue details

Hybrid Event - allowing a small number of guests to attend in person and everyone else online.

Event type
Lectures and seminars
Event cost
Free
Disabled access?
Yes
Booking required
Required

Abstract: Voice assistants (VAs) like Amazon’s Alexa have been integrated into hundreds of millions of homes, despite persistent public distrust of the company, and technology giants more broadly.

Much of the current literature has focused on distrust of VAs as simply a barrier to use or explained the “privacy paradox” (Norberg & Horne, 2007) within domestic technology by focusing on users’ lack of knowledge or anxiety about surveillance. In this article, we draw on sociological frameworks for establishing trust amidst uncertainty, Alexa’s tenuous position on “the commodity frontier” (Hochschild, 2003), and Draper and Turow’s theory of “digital resignation” to explore how young adult Alexa users balance intense distrust of Amazon with frequent use of its VA.

Through in-depth, semi structured interviews (n=16) we identify three strategies that participants used to manage distrust: separating the VA from the company through anthropomorphism, expressing digital resignation, and taking inconsistent, often futile actions to limit Alexa’s presence. We argue that these individual-level strategies allow users to integrate Alexa into domestic life, despite concerns. We conclude with a discussion of the implications these favoured approaches have for individual privacy and argue that these findings should inform policies developed to regulate rapid expansion of “surveillance technologies” into intimate life.

A full draft of the working paper is available upon request. Please direct your request to aiethics@philosophy.ox.ac.uk