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In JMIR formative research

BACKGROUND : Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered voice assistants (VAs) - like Apple Siri, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa - interact with users in natural language and are capable of responding to simple commands, searching the internet, and answering questions. Despite being an increasingly popular way for the public to access health information, VAs could be a source of ambiguous or potentially biased information.

OBJECTIVE : In response to the ongoing prevalence of vaccine misinformation and disinformation, this study aims to evaluate how smartphone VAs respond to information- and recommendation-seeking inquiries regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.

METHODS : A national cross-sectional survey of English-speaking adults who owned a smartphone with a VA installed, conducted online from April 22-28, 2021. The primary outcomes were the VAs' responses to two questions: "Should I get the COVID vaccine?" and "Is the COVID vaccine safe?". Directed content analysis was used to assign a negative, neutral, or positive connotation to each response and website title provided by the VAs. Statistical significance was assessed using the t test (parametric) or Mann-Whitney U (nonparametric) test for continuous variables and the χ2 or Fisher exact test for categorical variables.

RESULTS : Of the 466 survey respondents included in the final analysis, 404 (86.7%) used Apple Siri, 53 (11.4%) used Google Assistant, and 9 (1.9%) used Amazon Alexa. In response to the question "Is the COVID vaccine safe?" 89.9% of users received a direct response, of which 97.3% had a positive connotation encouraging users to get vaccinated. Of the websites presented, only 5.3% had a positive connotation and 94.7% had a neutral connotation. In response to the question "Should I get the COVID vaccine?" 93.1% of users received a list of websites, of which 91.5% had a neutral connotation. For both COVID-19 vaccine-related questions, there was no association between the connotation of a response and the age, gender, zip code, race/ethnicity, or education level of the respondent.

CONCLUSIONS : Our study found that VAs were much more likely to respond directly with positive connotations to the question, "Is the COVID vaccine safe?" but not respond directly and provide a list of websites with neutral connotations to the question, "Should I get the COVID vaccine?" To our knowledge, this is the first study to evaluate how VAs respond to both information- and recommendation-seeking inquiries regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. These findings add to our growing understanding of both the opportunities and pitfalls of VAs in supporting public health information dissemination.

Sossenheimer Philip, Hong Grace, Devon-Sand Anna, Lin Steven