If you’re worried about privacy when it comes to owning smart speakers, you should be. It turns out Amazon’s Alexa doesn’t completely let go of all of your conversations and transcripts.
After discovering that Amazon employees around the world were making transcripts of randomly selected conversations heard by Alexa, there was an uproar from consumers, privacy advocates and some lawmakers. At the time, Amazon said customers simply had to manually delete the audio files. However, it’s more complicated than that.
A U.S. senator demanded answers from Amazon about the transcripts. What he found out may shock you.
What information does Alexa keep?
Huseman confirmed that when a user manually deleted a conversation from Alexa, the transcript would be deleted as well and not remain in any storage systems.
Here comes the surprise — at least for those who didn’t read the Alexa fine print (and let’s face it, almost all of us are guilty of that). Huseman told Coons that not all records of conversations with Alexa are deleted, even if you manually removed the audio. For example, any transactions involving third-party skills developers are kept so the developers can track transactions.
Essentially, every purchase you make through Alexa is kept on file. That information is likely to contain personal data.
“We use the customer data we collect to provide the Alexa service and improve the customer experience, and our customers know that their personal information is safe with us,” Huseman wrote.
He added that other types of Alexa recordings and transcripts that are not deleted are those associated with the devices’ “Remember” feature for recurring alarms, reminders of meetings and events, and more. In his letter to Coons, Huseman said keeping those transcripts and audio will help “train” Alexa’s machine-learning systems.
Coon’s was not impressed with Amazon’s answers, particularly on the issue of third-party information.
“Amazon’s response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon’s servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice,” Coons said in a statement. “What’s more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear.”
How to protect your privacy with Amazon
Now we know that Alexa is keeping some of your recordings and transcripts even if you have manually removed them. So what’s the point of removing them?
Well, at least you do have some control of your privacy — if Amazon is only keeping track of transactions and commands.
Here’s how to get rid of old audio files:
- Open the Alexa app and go into the “Settings” section.
- Select “History” and you’ll see a list of all the entries.
- Select an entry and tap the Delete button.
- If you want to delete all the recordings with a single click, you must visit the “Manage Your Content and Devices” page at amazon.com/mycd.
Amazon also recently rolled out a feature that allows you to tell Alexa to erase everything that you said the day.