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Security & privacy

Humans are listening to what you tell Alexa – and now you can tell them to stop

Amazon took a notable amount of heat when its data collection practices were finally revealed to the public. For folks who were excited to have a futuristic voice assistant in their homes, the news that Amazon was listening to and transcribing peoples’ conversations must have come as a shock.

But for those of us familiar with the data habits of major tech companies, Amazon’s story wasn’t all too surprising. The infrastructure for most of the internet’s biggest platforms depends on massive amounts of data collection — and data is exactly what Amazon claims it needs in order to improve Alexa’s functions.

Well, all that is about to change — and this time, it seems history is aligned with the consumer instead of the industry. Amazon, following Apple and Google’s example, is finally giving users the chance to opt out of its data collection program. We have the latest on Amazon’s decision, as well as how you can stop them from listening to your private conversations once and for all.

Amazon finally gives users a chance to opt out

Starting Friday, August 2, 2019, Amazon began allowing customers to opt out of recording practices that the company uses to train its AI software.

Until this point, Amazon had been collecting and transcribing samples of conversations recorded from interactions with Alexa users. This move marks the first time that Amazon is giving users an up-front method of declining the process for privacy reasons.

Per the new process, you can use the Alexa app’s settings menu to remove recordings from the pool that Amazon uses for transcriptions. From here on, the company is also informing its users about the nature of its data harvesting practices with a disclaimer that appears when the privacy menu is opened.

This marked departure from previous behavior falls in the footsteps of similar moves by Apple and Google — both of whom also took criticism for their respective data collection practices. Unlike Amazon, however, both Apple and Google have discontinued their manual review programs for the time being.

Is Amazon still listening to me?

By default, yes. Even though Amazon is giving users the ability to opt out of data collection and manual review, these are very much settings that need to be changed from the get-go.

While it’s good that Amazon is being a bit more transparent about its methods and intentions, it’s still somewhat revealing that Alexa enabled devices continue to record you unless specifically told otherwise.

That said, the new settings options aren’t difficult to activate. And once set, your device will no longer log or submit recordings for manual review.

In addition, any existing recordings that have been saved will be deleted once you choose to opt out.

How to stop Alexa from recording your voice:

Open the Alexa App on your mobile device and tap Settings, then Alexa Privacy, followed by Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa. On this page, your device will inform you about data collection with the following statement:

“With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”

Once this prompt is complete, simply disable the setting to complete the process. Now, you’ll have a smart device that does what you expected out of the box — without the added caveat. If only we didn’t have to go through months of fevered speculation to get to this point, but we’ll take a victory where we can.

Changes like this, as small as they are, go a long way towards helping consumers fight for greater privacy protection. When enough people speak out, companies will listen. All it takes is us being loud enough with our voices and wallets for them to hear.

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