If you have one of Amazon's Echo smart speakers, you know they're a handy tool for everything from checking weather to controlling other smart devices. That convenience comes with a cost: your privacy.
That's because Alexa, along with potentially thousands of Amazon employees, listen to what you say and might even know exactly where you live. For an extra dose of creepy, those cute Echo Dots for kids are even collecting data they shouldn't be, according to consumer advocate groups.
Now, Alexa also wants to be your guard dog. Instead of just listening for voices, Alexa can now monitor for sounds that could mean trouble while you're not home. But can you trust it?
Alexa wants to protect your home
First announced last September (no. 15 on the list) and following an invite-only preview, Amazon's Alexa Guard feature is now rolling out to Echo owners across the country. As a refresher, let's say you're walking out the door. You announce, "Alexa, I'm leaving," and the speaker responds, "Okay, I'll be on guard."
From that point on, your Echo device(s) become a basic home security system. The far-field microphone on the smart speaker starts listening for the sounds of glass breaking, along with smoke alarms or carbon monoxide detectors going off.
If it picks up one of those noises, you'll get a push notification called a "Smart Alert." Then you can listen to an audio clip of the sound the speaker picked up, and even take a look if you have a speaker with a built-in camera like the Echo Show or Echo Spot.
As an added bonus, if you have smart lights (including dumb lights plugged into smart plugs) you can also allow Alexa to intermittently turn your lights on and off to make it look like someone's home. That function will only work after sunset, based on the ZIP code you added to the app. Check out Amazon's promo video about Alexa Guard below:
Trusting Alexa for home protection
From a security standpoint, can you trust Alexa Guard to truly protect your home while you're gone? The answer is, kind of. Amazon points out quite plainly that Alexa Guard is not meant to replace a true security system, and that it will not call 911 for you.
The feature only reacts to the sound of glass breaking or smoke and CO detectors, although Amazon says it's been trained to differentiate various sounds of breaking glass. That way, you shouldn't get a Smart Alert if the cat decides it doesn't like the fact that your wine glass from last night is still upright.
And although it doesn't replace a security system, it can tie into a couple of services. For instance, Alexa Guard will work in conjunction with a monitored Ring security system, which comes as no surprise since that's owned by Amazon. It's also compatible with ADT pro monitoring. That means when Alexa Guard is activated, it can send Smart Alerts directly to those monitoring services.
Trusting Alexa when it comes to your privacy
Trust is a two-pronged issue when it comes to Alexa Guard. It comes down to how useful the feature is, and what it means for your privacy. We already know Alexa is listening. With this feature, now your Echo device can listen even more than it already does.
If you want true privacy when it comes to evolving tech like this, the simple answer is to just keep the equivalent of a listening device out of your house. That goes for smart speakers like Amazon Echo, Google Home and the Apple AirPod.
If you can't live without the convenience, however, there are steps you can take to limit what your Echo device stores. Just remember it's not just Amazon employees that might hear what you say. Other accidents have been known to happen.
Setting up Alexa Guard
If you're okay with the privacy concerns and want to give Alexa Guard a try, the first thing you need to know is the feature is not enabled by default. You'll need to set it up through the Alexa app.
Open your Alexa app, then access the menu and look for Settings. Then look for the Guard option. (NOTE: Since the feature is still rolling out, it might not yet be available for all Echo owners.)
Once there, follow the additional setup instructions to enable Guard. During setup, the app will explain how Smart Alerts work and give you the option of adding smoke and CO alarm detection.
Then, you can enable Smart Alerts for sounds of glass breaking. Step 3 of 3 will show you the options you selected, and then tap confirm to complete setup. Keep in mind, you'll need to have smart lights or lights connected to smart plugs added into your Alexa app to activate the feature that turns lights off and on. You can also find those options in the Alexa Guard settings.
Again, it doesn't replace a real security system. And if you're in the market for one, get the only home security system Kim recommends. Visit SimplisafeKim.com right now and receive a 60-day money-back guarantee, free shipping and free returns.
Side gig with Alexa paid this guy enough to buy a Tesla
If you're looking to make some extra cash, Amazon might just be the right fit for you. To make Alexa more personalized for its users, Amazon allows third-party developers to create apps or skills for the voice assistant.