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Gadgets

Giving or getting a smart speaker for Christmas? Change these settings

Do you have a smart speaker in your home? The chances are pretty high that you do, considering about one-third of American homes use them. And even if you don’t have one yet, there’s a good chance you’ll get one for Christmas this year.

Smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo and Google Nest, are popular for a reason. They not only entertain the kids with trivia, tell you the day’s headlines and keep track of your schedule, but they also act as the central hub for controlling your other smart devices too.

As useful as these speakers can be, they can also have serious privacy issues. For example, Alexa and Google could be spying on your meetings or private conversations. You don’t want that smart speaker invading your privacy, so you need to keep it from happening. Here are some settings you need to change on your device — stat.

1. Mute your smart speaker mic

Smart speakers are built to record requests and store data as part of their design. Your Echo is supposed to listen and respond when you need it. What they can also do, though, is listen to and accidentally store your private conversations.

This issue occurs because the microphone on your smart speaker always stays on so it can respond when it hears you summon it. It isn’t supposed to record or listen without hearing the wake words, but it happens more than you’d expect. Tap or click here to see how many times your smart speaker accidentally records you.

You don’t want your new smart speaker to listen in on your conversations, so you need to mute its mic.

To mute your Amazon Echo device’s microphone:

  1. Press the microphone button at the top of your speaker.
  2. Hold the button until it turns red.
  3. To turn the microphone back on, press the button until it turns blue.

To mute your Google Home device’s microphone:

  1. Look for the lone button on the back of your smart speaker that has a microphone picture on it.
  2. Press the button. Four amber lights should appear at the top of your Google Home device, indicating the microphone is off.
  3. Press the button again to turn the microphone back on — the lights on your device should turn green to indicate the microphone is listening.

2. Delete your recordings

You don’t want your data or private conversations accessible to other people, so make sure to delete your recordings. Otherwise, your recordings could be accessed by Amazon employees or hackers if they gain access to your network and device.

You can set your recordings to delete automatically if you’re using an Amazon Echo speaker (or an Alexa-enabled smart device like the Echo Show from Amazon).

Set your account to automatically delete Alexa voice recordings:

  1. Open your Alexa app
  2. Tap the More menu in the bottom right corner
  3. Tap Settings
  4. Select Alexa Privacy
  5. Select Manage Your Alexa Data
  6. Go to Automatically delete recordings, then select Off to enable the setting
  7. Choose a time period to keep your voice recordings and then select Confirm

Note: When choosing “Don’t save recordings,” it may take up to 36 hours for our systems to apply this setting. Voice recordings older than the selected time period are deleted automatically.

If you’re using a Google Home speaker, Google won’t let you schedule deletions. You should still regularly delete your Google Home recordings, though.

To delete recordings on your Google Home speaker:

  1. Go to MyActivity.Google.com, or the Google App, and sign in to your Google account
  2. Click Data & Personalization
  3. In the Activity Controls panel, click on Web & App Activity > Manage Activity
  4. You’ll see past activity with an audio icon. Select More > Delete

3. Change your Drop In settings

One cool feature your Echo offers is Drop In. This feature connects you to an Echo speaker or a smart device display so you can have an instant conversation with someone in another room or home.

While you may like the idea of dropping in on Echos in your own home, do you really want to give someone else access to your smart speaker? You should limit the Drop In access to only the people you want on the list. You can also turn it off completely on certain devices.

To see who you have approved for your Drop In settings for your Echo:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone
  2. Tap Communicate at the bottom of the screen and on that page tap the contacts icon at the top right
  3. Scroll through your contacts and make sure Allow Drop In is toggled on for only the right people

To limit or turn off Drop In on your Echo:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone
  2. Select Settings > Device Settings and choose the device that you’d like to turn on/off Drop In
  3. Tap Communications and select Drop In
  4. Here, you can select On for permitted contacts only, My Household to Drop In on only devices on my account, or Off, which means nobody can Drop In

If you’d like to disable Drop In altogether, open the Alexa app on your phone and follow the above steps for each of your Echo devices. When you get to the Drop In page for each Echo device, select Off. That’s it, now Drop In is disabled on each of your devices.

4. Turn off Sidewalk

Have you heard of Sidewalk? It’s a new feature that acts as a mesh network to extend your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connection range by up to a mile by turning your Echo speakers and Ring gadgets into bridge devices.

Sidewalk boosts your internet-connected tech by borrowing more bandwidth from your network and giving your device an extra surge of signal when it’s far from your router. If your neighbors are using these devices, it will borrow from their bandwidth, too. The more devices it borrows from, the larger it gets.

While that extra boost can keep you connected when you’re out of range of your router, it’s probably not worth the potential security issues. You don’t want your Echo connected to a network you have no control over, so you should turn off Sidewalk instead of using it. The extra boost doesn’t justify the risk.

Tap or click here for more details about Sidewalk.

To turn off Sidewalk:

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Tap More followed by Settings
  3. Tap Account Settings, followed by Amazon Sidewalk
  4. Turn Amazon Sidewalk off by sliding the toggle next to Enabled to the left

Bonus: Change these settings on your smart doorbells

Smart speakers aren’t the only devices with issues. Your smart doorbell settings may require a tune-up, too. For example, you may want to use two-factor authentication on your account. If you don’t, there’s a possibility that your smart doorbell could be hacked — and trust us. You don’t want to deal with that headache.

You may also want to tell your device what and when to record (and when not to). The whole point of a smart doorbell is the video recording component, but hackers — or even Google — could use it to spy on you without your knowledge.

Some smart doorbells even offer the function to share images, videos and information about suspicious activities or lost pets with neighbors, helping keep neighborhoods safe. It can also compromise your privacy, though — so you may want to change that setting to limit your sharing.

Tap or click here for details on how to change these settings and more ways to optimize your smart doorbell.

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