Giving Gadgets As Gifts? Get Ready to Answer These Questions

Gift giving has become a bit onerous. In the past, a recipient could keep a present or return it, but the gifts didn’t raise significant questions or concerns. Even electronic gifts like a DVD player or remote-controlled car were inconsequential. That’s no longer the case. Giving tech-focused products now requires a different mindset going in. A $20 or $30 Amazon Echo Dot might be the right price and readily available with free two-day shipping, but it raises some legitimate privacy concerns that you, as the giver, should be able to answer for.

Imagine surprising a parent with a voice assistant and then them noticing a very targeted ad. There’s a solid chance you might forever be reminded by them, subtly or otherwise, that it was you who put a “spying machine” in their house. Even though there’s been no evidence the two things are related.

Here are a few gift types that may spark questions or concerns. There’s nothing wrong with these types of gifts—in fact, there’s probably a lot of people who would love to receive one. But when the questions start, here’s how to answer.

When Giving a Voice AssistantGiving someone an Amazon Echo or Google Nest speaker is a relatively easy way to inject some smarts into a home. Even without other smart gadgets, voice assistants are handy for hands-free kitchen timers and settling debates with their internet-based knowledge.
What you need to know: If someone already has a digital assistant, try to stick with the same one. That means if your recipient has an iPhone, consider an Apple Homepod, or if they shop on Amazon a lot, an Echo might be a better bet. Android users may enjoy a Google Nest speaker. After all, remembering different wake words with different assistants is a pain. If this is someone’s first smart speaker, the first thing you’ll need to know is whether the person has wireless internet available to connect it to.

Common question: Is this assistant listening to me all the time?

How to answer: No, it is not listening all the time. Smart speakers from Amazon, Google, and Apple only transmit audio when they hear the wake word. You need to speak its wake word before it will transmit information back and forth over the internet. Amazon, as an example, will show you in its app what it heard and how it responded. It may be a little creepy to see that history, but it also provides clarity on what it’s doing. Of course, some speakers will start listening by accident from time to time, but they usually shut off very quickly when that happens. We have a full guide on how to make your smart speaker as secure as possible .

By the way, those targeted ads? Yes, they can sometimes be too on-the-nose. It’s normal to look for explanations, but there’s no significant evidence to show that these devices are spying all the time. Ad targeting is just really good—which makes it especially creepy.

When Giving a Music or Video Subscription

Most media services have the option to easily give access as a gift. I think this idea feels more personal than a generic eatery gift card. It allows access to a world of content for the person you’re gifting to explore and enjoy. The first gift I gave my wife’s parents 15 years ago, before we were married, was a three-month subscription to Netflix. I think they still use that same DVD plan to this day too.
What you need to know: Most important, you should know whether they have devices they can use one of these services on. Before you give the gift of Disney+, does the person have a way to stream it on their TV? Do they have a smart speaker to listen to that Spotify gift subscription that supports it? Of course these services should all work on their phone. But it is nice to watch and listen in bigger ways too, and it adds value to your gift.