Can Alexa Keep A Secret? Privacy Concerns May Prevent Its Use For Email

We’ve all had a few laughs at Alexa’s expense. For instance, there was that comedy skit that had a Bernie Sanders impersonator yelling, “Alexa, shut up!”

But it’s time to get serious about Amazon’s voice assistant — especially when it comes to the feature that allows users to check their emails by voice just by saying, “Alexa, check my email” once they have programmed it for that. Will this help email marketers? 

The answer is no.

For example, Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path, is in the skeptical camp.

“Most people are hesitant for a number  of reasons,” Sather says. “The beauty of email is that it’s an asynchronous communication. I can scan it in the inbox and see the things I want to read or delete. Moving it into an audio communication changes the game and draws out that process of scanning. Amazon will read all the subject lines — that’s going to take a long time.”



There’s also a privacy issue. “I don’t want somebody in the same room as me as my digital assistant is reading my emails,” Sather says. “My spouse may find out about a gift, or someone may hear private information. There are some security privacy concerns with reading that email.”

On the marketer’s side, there is this issue: Do you want Amazon seeing your emails? Now nobody knows what Amazon’s plans are in that regard.

 “They do say they’re storing those emails within their server, an they’re not saying how they’re going to use that data,” Sather notes.

He adds: “I would assume Amazon is using the Gmail APIs and other email APIs. They have to adhere to the conditions of the API, so for Gmail, they can’t sell data to third-party merchants. It still means Amazon is able to see all the emails people are receiving, including receipts and purchases from retailers. Their privacy policy does not address this.” 

Sather says email is a visual medium, and that marketers are gaining more traction with dynamic emails that can target based on location. “They're not going to know where I’m located — in Seattle?” he laughs.

Anyway, the voice-email function already exists in smartphones, particularly for use by the visually impaired, Sather notes. 

Skepticism about Alexa as a marketing tool is shared by Kris Mobayeni, AVP of marketing at BounceX. 

“It’s a relatively new functionality,” Mobayeni says. “My view is that Alexa for checking email is not going to be widely adopted. I can’t imagine how cart abandonment can translate from text to voice.”

In addition, people have other forms of email access. “You’re so much more likely to be checking on your phone. It’s a better format,” Mobayeni adds. And retailers have other means of getting their emails opened — for example, in Gmail’s Promo tab.

Despite this skepticism, Anthony Chiulli, director of product marketing for 250ok, recently offered some tips on how to make Alexa work for email marketing -- for one, read your subject lines out loud."

“Traditionally, email marketers try to write subject lines that are short, impactful and eye-catching, but what works on a screen doesn’t always translate when read aloud (and vice versa),”  Chiulli writes in Martech Advisor.

He advises marketers to “consider the auditory accessibility of the message, and remember, you can no longer rely on visual text effects like strikethrough to get your point across.”

What’s more, a no-reply is a no-no, he adds. Sather agrees that "email copywriters will have to make a shift."

So far, Alexa is the only voice assistant to offer this capability. But, as Sather observes, Google would well do it with Google Assistant, given that it also has Gmail.

Looking forward,  Sather wonders if there will be a new email standard, like the one that facilitate text and html, depending on the user's capability. "If this does get adoption, we will need a new standard or voice version," he concludes.

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