Three tips to make sure your business does not get legally lost in the noise of voice search.

The surge in popularity of voice search, whether through mobile communication devices or hardware installed in the home, has been huge; with many in the industry predicting that voice searching will soon overtake traditional screen based searching.

The pace of consumer uptake of this technology is only set to increase as consumers allow more and more internet enabled devices into their lives. The potential convenience of voice search is driving this growth; with consumers enjoying an ease and speed at which they can order products, ask for directions, or ask for the heating to be turned up in their internet enabled homes.

Much of the thought businesses have put into the development of these technologies has been around the marketing and technological issues: discussing how searches can be improved to better understand context; to effectively communicate with internet enabled devices; and to clearly recognise the spoken word of the user. Yet surprisingly little thought is often given to the business legal environment in which these tools operate.

In this post, we will look at three key legal issues which can help your business thrive using voice search.


Brand battles

The adoption of new technologies in consumer marketplaces is often accompanied by a renewed effort by brand owners to control their reputation in that space.

With third parties able to register brands with voice search tools, we are starting to see another battlefield for trade mark owners.

Brand owners are finding themselves racing to ensure that they control their brand in the new voice search space which seems reminiscent of the early days of the internet when there was a rush to register domain names or to control search engine optimisation.

Brand owners that haven’t taken steps to register their trade marks will find themselves at risk of missing out in this new terrain, as others register search terms before them.

Whether you are using the voice search tools or not, you should make sure that your trade mark protection is in place to stop others from taking advantage of your goodwill. With this done, consider registering phrases you want associated with your business as soon as possible.


Dealing with consumers

Businesses are familiar with the laws they must comply with when selling online. The obligations to provide certain information about who the consumer is dealing with, returns policies, etc. will be familiar to readers. How you convey that information through the medium of a voice search (where convenience and speed is everything) is something which many businesses are struggling to comprehend.

It becomes more important than ever that your terms and conditions are robust and in place on both your website and in email confirmations when customers are buying through voice, as the consumer will not want to hear these read out to them by their device! Getting this right will help to reduce your risks of falling foul of the law in not providing sufficient information but also ensure that you are in a position to control returns and cancellations in keeping the law.


GDPR and audio file recordings

In order to provide the best possible service, the new voice search tools remember previous searches and “learn” from them. In order to do this, the search tools have to store significant amounts of data. It is becoming common knowledge that many of these services keep audio file recordings of voice searches which a user has made and can provide these back to the user on request.

As consumers become more aware of the data that they are giving away when using voice searches, in parallel with growing awareness of their rights in the privacy arena, the risks for businesses that only pay lip service to privacy laws greatly increase. This concern is compounded by fears amongst many of the buying public about how these devices “listen”. Many consumers are increasingly wary that these devices are constantly listening, even if they are only responding to certain commands.

Only those businesses that can reassure their consumer base that their privacy rights are being looked after will thrive in this new space.


Voice search: a new frontier

As with any new technology, there are huge opportunities for businesses that can use voice search effectively. Also, as with any new technology, there will be new legal concerns to consider, ensuring that the technology helps your business to thrive rather than becoming a burden.

The speed at which consumers have taken up this new technology has significantly outpaced the way in which businesses wanting to take advantage of this technology have kept up with the law.

Staying on the right side of the law with this technology can be complex. Businesses need to balance the opportunity presented with parallel responsibilities only then, will voice search become a powerful tool for your business.



Ben Travers is a partner and head of intellectual property and IT at Stephens Scown LLP. The team is one of the largest specialist teams of its kind in the UK and advises businesses in the South West and beyond on how to protect and exploit their IP, contract issues and data protection. To contact Ben, please call 01392 210700 or email