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

With Professor Ekaterina Hertog, and Professor Victoria Nash
29 Apr 2022
With Professor Ekaterina Hertog, and Professor Victoria Nash

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 favored approaches have for individual privacy and argue that these findings should inform policies developed to regulate rapid expansion of “surveillance technologies” into intimate life.