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Security & privacy

Alexa shares more than 1,500 private conversations with complete stranger

It’s no secret that our convenient digital voice assistants, like Amazon Echo devices, record and keep files of our private conversations. Amazon, for one, says that they do this for better accuracy and that deleting the recordings could degrade your user experience. OK.

But a lot of people don’t think about that until something bad happens. You might remember the ordeal an Oregon couple went through earlier this year when Alexa sent one of their recorded conversations to an employee who works for one of them. Awkward.

Something similar has happened again. But this time, it’s much, much bigger and involves hundreds of private recordings.

‘Alexa, play recordings from a complete stranger’

How would you feel if someone you didn’t know had access to your private recordings? That’s what happened recently in Germany, and it wasn’t just a few recordings.

An Alexa user asked his device to play some of his own recordings but instead was given about 1,700 audio files from a random person. According to German computer magazine c’t, the recordings were conversations between a man and woman.

The man said he reached out to Amazon about being given the wrong files, but he initially got no response. Those files were soon after deleted from a link Amazon had provided to the man, but he had already downloaded them.

Bonus: 6 pro Alexa skills you’ll use every day

It’s still not clear exactly what happened, but an Amazon spokesperson called the incident an isolated case and the “result of a human error.”

Ways to prevent this from happening to you

If it’s an A-B conversation and Alexa can C her way out, Amazon’s Echo devices don’t always have to be listening. In fact, you can stop any recordings before they start by turning off the Echo’s microphone. Just tap the button on top of your Echo that looks like a microphone with a slash through it, and Alexa will no longer be listening. You’ll see a red glow when the mic’s disabled. Tap again to bring it back online.

Amazon Echo top view

But it also defeats the purpose of having a smart speaker like this if the mic is always disabled. So keep in mind you can also go back and review your activity. On Amazon’s website, you can review and listen to any of your recordings, and you have the ability to delete individual files or all of them at once. Click or tap here to get started and Amazon will walk you through the steps.

Amazon privacy settings page

If you go to the Amazon Alexa Privacy page, you’ll see this (on your mobile device), and can delete recordings.

For more on managing your Alexa recordings, tap or click here.

Did you know Amazon’s Alexa can now predict what you’ll do next? Tap or click below to listen to Kim’s Consumer Tech Update:

Bonus: How to listen to Kim Komando on Amazon Echo

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