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Let's understand what we are talking about here -

1) On android phones - the moment you say, "Hey/Ok Google", Google starts acting based on your voice commands, i.e. becomes voice-activated.

2) On observing this carefully interaction carefully - users are compelled to think that probably Google is listening to all my conversations, and hence was able to catch the "Hey Google" part of it instantaneously.

3) This comes as a big unwanted surprise for the user who thinks this as a privacy breach. (Although legally while setting up the phone and accepting multiple fine-printed terms and conditions, s/he would have said yes to this interaction and google might not be actually sending all of the data to its servers). Good read

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Question:

1) As a good interaction practice to aid users being comfortable about their data and privacy - shouldn't the interaction at least warrant the user to click on an icon or tap at a particular place etc. to activate this voice setting? How about something as simple as "Tap home button thrice" or something that is easy enough say when you are driving?

2) Can this be termed as dark UX?

  • The reason it is voice activated and not with a button is so you can use it hands free. For example with dirty hands while cooking or driving. – Martyn Jan 2 at 11:36
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    It should be noted that the "Hey, Google" part is probably not handled by Google but by software on the phone only. Funny story, though. I told my wife that, with her new car, she can now use her phone through the car's display by just saying, "Hey Google" to which my phone replied, "It's my favorite thing to do!". – Rob Jan 2 at 11:55
  • Google Assistant will open whenever it wants to and start listening. So pretending that it isn't doing that via UX would be perpetuating the lie. I consider other aspects of Google Assistant to be Dark UX: swiping up from home is effectively swipe-jacking; squeeze to launch is effectively pickup-my-phone-jacking. – straya Jan 3 at 0:01
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2) Can this be termed as dark UX?

Short Answer: No.

Why?

Because Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_pattern

https://www.darkpatterns.org/

What you are referring to here has something to do with privacy concerns.

Internet privacy is a joke. When I open my Instagram feed, I usually see an advertisement for something I googled earlier. And it is not just google, but even Siri and Alexa are accused of eavesdropping.

Heres a few articles I found regarding privacy concerns with Voice User Interfaces:

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Answer to #1

As a good interaction practice to aid users being comfortable about their data and privacy - shouldn't the interaction at least warrant the user to click on an icon or tap at a particular place etc. to activate this voice setting?

Yes, there is such a icon/button. It is the setting that asks you whether you want to activate Google assistant with voice commands.

Voice activation setting in Google app

Now, this should answer your first question. Also, this isn't the only place and setting that you can change. There are more and all of these ore opt-in settings.

Coming to question #2


Dark UX patterns are very different from dark company practices. Google and the other companies that have voice assistants do not mislead you into giving them information or performing an action.

Examples of a dark UX pattern

  • Hiding a Play button underneath an ad which reveals the close/dismiss icon only when the ad is clicked once.
  • Forcing the user to Sign In/Up in order to show a page on the website

These are done deliberately and have no way of getting around it.

Voice assistants, on the other hand, have ways of being disabled and have permissions revoked. You can simply revoke the Microphone access of the Google/Alexa/Bixby app and have them not be able to listen to you. I haven't used an iPhone but I am sure there would be a way of turning off Siri and revoking its Microphone access.

So, no. You cannot deem as dark UX patterns

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