An Alexa-enabled speaker that won’t record user conversations

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Published: September 6, 2019 4:25:18 PM

Amazon has employed thousands of people who listen to voice recordings captured by its Echo speakers

Sonos Inc., an internet-connected speaker maker trying to compete with Google, Amazon.com Inc. and Apple Inc., unveiled a new product for people who worry those tech giants are recording their private conversations.

The Santa Barbara, California-based company’s latest model, the $179 Sonos One SL, doesn’t have an internal microphone, so the device can’t listen to what people are saying in the privacy of their homes.

A slew of speakers and other home gadgets have been released in recent years and many of the devices keep track of questions, voice commands and other user activity. This has sparked privacy concerns.

Amazon has employed thousands of people who listen to voice recordings captured by its Echo speakers. The words are transcribed, annotated and fed back into software to help the company’s Alexa digital assistant better understand human speech. Google and Apple have similar processes and have announced different ways to improve privacy under pressure from either users or regulators.

“There is a group of people, we did get feedback, they just don’t want microphones in their house,” Sonos Chief Executive Officer Patrick Spence said. “We thought it was a good opportunity to do something new in that space and give peace of mind to people that want it.”

This means the new Sonos One SL can’t be controlled with voice commands, a feature that some consumers expect from so-called smart speakers like those already offered by Sonos, Google, Amazon and Apple.

Sonos will continue to sell other microphone-equipped speakers, such as its Sonos One and a new $399 outdoor speaker called the Sonos Move, which it unveiled on Thursday. The company also announced the $399 Sonos Port, which lets people stream songs from the internet directly into a traditional analog speaker system.

Sonos styles itself as a neutral player that lets people use music streaming services and voice assistants from various big tech companies.

“We’ve seen it as an opportunity in this war of ecosystems to be the Switzerland,” Spence said.

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