While we can’t imagine our lives without digital voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa, recent reports have raised concern that these household staples are not just unquestioning minions, ready to serve, they are listening more often than people realize. I mean after all, how else would they respond to the “Alexa” wake word in a heartbeat? This has got people asking how to stop Alexa from listening in on their conversations.
Not only content with eavesdropping, they are also recording snippets of conversations which may be reviewed by humans in order to gauge how well the systems fulfill commands. According to Bloomberg,
“The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”
After the startling revelation, people are frenzied over their privacy and left to wonder how much they have given away to strangers. Let’s face it, advertisers already know our weaknesses and desires; how far until what we desire walks right up to our doorstep in a jiffy?
Wondering how to stop Alexa from listening into your conversations? Here are a few ways to take back control and make sure no-one in your household really listens to you; especially not workers at Amazon! Here’s how:
How to Stop Alexa from Listening?
Use The Mute Button
For people who think that the “mute” button on the Amazon Echo devices exists to lull us into a false sense of security, it’s not all that bad. If you still have doubts, the teardowns of the Amazon Echo Dot show reveal that no voltage passes through the mic circuitry when in the mute mode. This mute mode is legit to be sure. While Mics may not need batteries to work, they can at least not record when shut out of the rest of the Echo. If you don’t know where the mute button is, look for a circle with a line through it or a micro-phone icon.
When you are not actively using your Echo device, its prudent to keep it on mute. But there’s a catch to it: what use is Alexa if it can’t take impromptu across-the-room commands. Nevertheless, it keeps those hush-hush conversations privy. When on mute, a red line appears on the Show series screens or the LED ring shines red, so that you can be sure that Alexa is behaving.
Switch The Camera Slider
If you are using Amazon Echo devices with a screen, such as the Echo Show 5 or Echo Show smart displays, why not use a camera slider to obstruct the camera view with a layer of opaque plastic. You can still utter commands to Alexa but block the camera that enables voice chat through services like Skype, since it leaves a lot of users uncomfortable knowing that the camera (and in turn, an amused Amazon employee) could be spying on them.
Switch off the Drop-in feature
One of the most controversial features of the Amazon series is that it affords your household and your contacts the ability to just “Drop In” and start a conversation via two Echo devices, much like a phone call. This makes your Amazon devices act like a video and audio intercom. Someone in front of the Echo device in the living room can get through to someone in front of the show in the upstairs bedroom. Some experts have suggested that a connection, for instant a fellow Echo owner you have in your contact list, could listen in on your home conversations.
Here’s where the problem starts. You don’t necessarily need a phone call to connect the two devices when they can communicate with each other automatically. It’s not so much as Amazon workers listening into your conversations as your 7-year-old spying on you. To disable this feature, fire up the Alexa app on your phone, go to Settings>Device Settings. Tap on any device and tap Communication. Turn the toggle to off for Drop in.
Tweak Your Privacy Settings
“We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures,” the Amazon spokeswoman wrote in an email Friday. “We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.”
In the wake of the recent backlash about Amazon employees listening in to your Amazon interactions and requests to improve Amazon’s transcription and test out new features, Amazon is changing its settings in a new policy which took effect last Friday, so people can opt out of having their voice recordings reviewed by Amazon employees.
- Fire up the Alexa App and tap the menu button
- Go to settings and select “Alexa Account”, scroll to the bottom and tap on “Alexa Privacy.”
- Under the blue banner that appears, scroll down to “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa”.
- Notice how the first three items have been set to ‘on’ by default. Toggle these (especially the ‘Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions’ and ‘Help Develop New Features’) to the OFF position.
- Ignore the warning that says that “new features” may not work properly if you proceed to make your recorded commands slightly less accessible to Amazon.
Prune Your Call History
As a last resort, you can log into your history and wipe out all the conversations you had with Alexa, logged on your Echo. While it definitely doesn’t stop Alexa from listening to you or recording your conversations, it removes all previous records it had of doing so. To do so, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History. You will be presented with a list of your most recent Echo interactions. Scroll to the Date Range box and select ‘All History’, then tap on the Delete All Recordings for All History link. This gets rids of every Amazon record on file. However, this may wreak havoc on the performance of Echo, or so the disclaimer says.
Amazon also allows deletion by voice, which lets you delete recordings simply by saying “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” or “Alexa, delete what I just said”.