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Security & privacy

Amazon Echo warning: Think twice before enabling Alexa skills

Thanks to smart speakers, you can get daily news briefings, set a timer and order dog food without lifting a finger. Just say the words and it’s done.

No matter how careful you are, you give up some privacy when using a phone, tablet, smart speaker or laptop. They can sometimes listen to you without you even knowing it. Tap or click here to keep Big Tech from listening in on your private conversations.

Alexa can be a huge help. She can tell you about the weather or give you a recipe for home-cooked meals and so much more. Skills let you make the most out of Alexa-enabled devices, but they can come with a price. A recent study shows that a quarter of Alexa’s skills have no privacy policy in place.

Alexa, what’s the deal?

Researchers from North Carolina State University analyzed more than 90,000 Alexa skills and found that just 24% have privacy policies in place. Only a few of the tested skills have policies pertaining to categories such as kids and health and fitness.

The study also found that skills can be activated automatically, as opposed to asking you for permission. So when you ask Alexa a question, you won’t know where your question is going or where the answer is coming from. Tap or click here for ways to keep hackers out of your smart home cameras.

It also found that developers can publish skills under a false name. This name could be a company you trust that has nothing to do with the skill. Thus you can feed it information without knowing who is listening.

Attackers can also reprogram skills after passing Amazon’s security check. Once they have the green light and are in the system, developers can change things around to ask you for sensitive information.

Read the fine print

Before adding any third-party skills to your Alexa or other smart devices, find out what you are sharing. Read those notices you may usually agree to without thinking. The fine print can tell you what data is collected and how it will be used. If there is no privacy policy in place, you may want to avoid that skill entirely.

Check in on Alexa

You can set up Alexa and your Echo to be less invasive by going into the privacy settings. Here are some tips.

  • To change permissions for individual skills, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Skill Permissions in the Alexa app. Choose the data type you want to access, then toggle each skill on or off.
  • To view your alert history, Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review smart alert history. From here, you can delete alert logs.
  • To view your smart device home history, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage smart home devices history. Here you’ll find information on third-party smart devices connected to your Echo. Delete at your discretion.
  • Amazon employees review randomly selected recordings to “improve Amazon services.” You can disable this by going to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage your Alexa data. Use the toggles to opt out. Tap or click here for more tips on setting up your Alexa for privacy.

Delete your conversations

While you can delete conversations, you can’t get to all of them. “We may still retain other records of your Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to your request,” Amazon says in its Alexa privacy notice.

For more, sign in to your Amazon account and navigate to Customer Service > Digital Services and Device Support > Amazon Device and Digital Services Terms, Warranties, and Notices > Alexa and Alexa Device Terms, Warranties, and Notices.

There are a few ways you can get rid of conversations you’re allowed to delete.

  • Open your Alexa app and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History > Date Range and select a range from the list.
  • You can verbally tell Alexa to delete your recordings. Open your Alexa app and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy Review Voice History and toggle Enable deletion by voice, then tap Enable. Now you can say something like, “Alexa, delete everything I said today.”
  • You can delete your conversations from the Amazon website by visiting amazon.com/alexaprivacysettings and going to Devices. Click on your device, then Delete voice recordings under the menu. Confirm the pop-up, then click Delete.

Keep reading

Amazon Echo tips and tricks: 20 new uses for your Alexa

10 surprising smart home devices you didn’t know about

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