New Sonos Digital Assistant May Protect Consumer Privacy
"Hey, Sonos" processes your voice commands on the smart speaker itself, instead of in the cloud
The audio company Sonos has introduced a new digital voice assistant with a twist that could help protect consumers’ privacy.
Available June 1 via a free software update, Sonos Voice Control (aka “Hey, Sonos”) can be used to control the speakers and soundbars in a Sonos multiroom music system. But unlike the voice commands for Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s Siri, those for Sonos Voice Control are all processed on the smart speaker or soundbar itself, instead of being relayed to company servers. That means the things you say to your device stay on the device, instead of being transmitted to the cloud and, maybe, sometimes, listened to.
“Sonos Voice Control is processing everything locally,” says Jeff Derderian, vice president of product program leadership at Sonos. “There’s not even a place to send anything. That pipeline isn’t even there.”
Voiced by Giancarlo Esposito
Actor Giancarlo Esposito, known for his work in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Mandalorian,” provides the voice of “Hey, Sonos,” which might be reason enough to give it a try. More voices will be added later.
Sonos Voice Control, which will be available June 1 in the U.S. and later in 2022 in France, is supposed to be designed for convenience as well as privacy. At launch, it will support Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, and Pandora, with other services to follow.
The setup is straightforward, using the company’s smartphone app. There’s no audible tone after you say “Hey, Sonos,” and when you’re repeating a command like “next track,” you don’t have to repeat the “Hey, Sonos” wake word. Hey, Sonos is also designed to respond to natural-sounding commands like “turn it up” rather than the stilted syntax often required by other digital assistants. In addition to straightforward commands for volume control and track selection, Sonos Voice Control enables you to move music from speaker to speaker throughout your home and add songs to your music library.
The new digital assistant works only with Sonos smart speakers and soundbars with a built-in mic array. (You can do something like mute a Sonos Five wireless speaker using a voice command directed to another Sonos smart speaker in your multiroom system.) Modes with Bluetooth capability, like the Sonos Move and the Sonos Roam, can also be controlled with “Hey, Sonos.”
Sonos smart speakers like the Sonos One and soundbars like the Beam are designed to offer both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. But Sonos Voice Control can be installed on a device that’s already running Alexa. So you can say “Hey, Sonos, shuffle songs from my Prince Rarities playlist,” and then follow that up with “Alexa, set a timer for 12 minutes.”
Things are a little less flexible with Google. You can use Google Assistant on another speaker in your multiroom system, but you can’t have “Hey, Sonos” and “Hey, Google” working on the same device.