Adeela Warley: Charities test the potential of voice-activated technology

The sector can benefit from this technology, but safeguards must be put in place

Adeela Warley
Adeela Warley

Voice-activated devices such as Amazon Echo and Google Home are now used as readily as toothbrushes and coffee mugs by millions of people for weather tips, making to-do lists and even donating to charity.

Amazon has filed a patent that would allow Alexa, the voice-activated technology in its home assistants, to make proactive suggestions based on listening in to our conversations, not just responding to voices.

My under-used Amazon Echo is probably bored of me asking to play the radio for a few minutes a day before being unplugged. But could my Amazon Echo soon be passing on all I say to anyone willing to pay?

Some charities are testing the potential. The British Red Cross has an Amazon Echo app to help people access first-aid advice. The National HIV Testing Week has developed a "skill" for Alexa: she answers a few questions before saying whether you should get tested. Both applications are new ways to connect with people where they are.

Many more charities could benefit from voice activation, but would need to put in place proper safeguards and have a better understanding of voice search, keywords, natural speech patterns and local queries. Most topically, with tighter data protection rules, it will require careful capture and management of personal data.

Developing the sector’s first digital code of practice will be game-changing for the 100,000 charities that lack basic digital skills. However smart digital becomes, honesty, clarity and accountability are the best basis for discussing and testing ideas with audiences and are fundamental to building reputation and goodwill.

Adeela Warley is chief executive of CharityComms

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