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Security & privacy

Amazon Echo secretly sends a family’s private conversation to a random contact

Are you like millions of others who are turning their place into a “smart home?” This, of course, means a home that is equipped with electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by a computer or phone.

This practice is becoming so common that a world of virtual assistants has opened up. Instead of tapping an app to play your music, then another app to put on your lights, and yet another to turn down the thermostat, you can just do all that from a single home hub.

One of the most popular virtual assistants is Amazon’s Alexa. You can find Alexa in several Amazon products such as the Echo, Dot and Tap. If you have a virtual assistant, we’ve warned you before that it’s always listening. You’re not going to believe how this family’s privacy was breached by Alexa.

How many others has this happened to?

This is scary! An Oregon family received a frantic phone call from one of their friends recently, telling them to unplug their Alexa devices. The caller told them that they’re being hacked.

What happened was, one of the family’s Echo devices sent a recorded conversation that took place in their home to the friend on the phone. The caller happened to work for someone who lives there and was on the family’s contact list.

In a statement to the Washington Post, Amazon said, “The Echo woke up when it heard a word that sounded like Alexa. The subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list.”

Amazon went on to say that even though this was an unlikely string of events, it’s looking at options to make these incidents less likely to occur.

The family was so freaked out by the loss of privacy that they have vowed to never plug those devices in again. They had an Echo or Echo Dot in nearly every room of their home.

If you are worried about the loss of privacy from your device, keep reading for tips on how to be more secure.

Locking down your privacy with Amazon’s Alexa

Delete voice commands

Did you know that Amazon records your voice commands? That’s because it’s helping make Alexa smarter and more useful.

But if you’re concerned about your privacy, and having your voice commands floating around, you can delete them. Start by signing into your Amazon account.

Then, click on the down arrow by Accounts & Lists >> from Accounts, choose Your Content and Devices >> highlight the tab Your Devices >> select Amazon Echo or another device >> Device Actions. Select Manage voice recordings.

Here’s another way to delete them.

Go to your Alexa app and go to Settings. Scroll down to History and tap on it.

You’ll see a shockingly long list with your voice commands. Select the one you want to delete by tapping on it then select Delete Voice Recordings.

Turn off the microphone

You can’t type an internet search on Echo. That may sound like a bad thing, but it’s the game-changing innovation that makes Echo so useful.

You just shout out a command like, “Alexa, how many teaspoons in a tablespoon” and Alexa tells you the answer. Of course, it’s always listening for your commands, so you’re opening yourself up to hackers by always being connected.

The good news is, it’s super easy to turn off Echo’s microphone. Touch the microphone icon on top of Echo to turn it off – the device will turn red.

Turn off voice purchases

The convenience of Echo can quickly scour if someone uses it to steal your money. You can easily set up Echo to make purchases from Amazon using your stored credit card or debit card information.

To set it up, go to the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet. Tap on the menu (three horizontal lines).

Select Settings >> Voice Purchasing >> Purchase by Voice >> swipe to turn it on. Follow the same steps to turn it off, just swipe from On to Off.

You can also require a code to be input before someone can make a purchase. From the step Voice Purchasing above, select Voice Code and turn it on.

Block incoming calls

You may not know this, but you can receive calls on your Echo. That’s fun and useful, but there’s a problem when it comes to privacy.

It’s easy to let someone snoop. So, say, “Alexa, do not disturb me” and your Echo won’t accept incoming calls.

The tricky part is remembering that you have Do Not Disturb turned on. To turn it off say, “Alexa, turn off Do Not Disturb.”

Change wake word

Most people with an Echo wake it up by saying, “Alexa.” But you can change that wake word to protect your privacy and keep other people out of your device.

Go to the Alexa app >> Settings >> choose Device >> Wake Word. You’ll see its default word is Alexa. Tap on the down arrows until you see four options for Wake Word, also including Amazon, Echo and Computer.

Speaking of Amazon here are 6 tricks to keep your packages from being stolen by porch thieves

With people increasingly opting to shop online, expect these numbers to go up. This will definitely leave plenty of opportunities for these porch thieves to scope out items left by delivery services like UPS, FedEx, and the USPS.

Click here for clever ways to keep thieves from stealing your packages.

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