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Security & privacy

Is Alexa or Google spying on your meetings? Make this change now

Virtual assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant can be a great help around the house. But within them lurks hidden dangers that could potentially put your data at risk. They are triggered with wake words, and once activated, listen for a question from you. While that might not seem dangerous, consider the process involved. Tap or click here to see how thousands of phrases trigger smart assistants.

Responses and answers aren’t stored in the little devices but rather transfer and pull data from huge online servers. Your voice is essentially uploaded to a central server, disseminated and a response is returned. Imagine if hackers gained access and could listen in on your work meetings or personal conversations.

All work-related meetings should be considered confidential. So here are some changes that you can make so that you don’t trigger an unwanted spy.

Disable the microphone from eavesdropping

Turning off the microphone, especially if there is one located near your home office, is the first step in staying safe. On Google devices, slide the switch located on the back.

RELATED: 5 Amazon settings to change to increase privacy

The assistant should audibly tell you that the microphone has been switched off. Just slide it back to the original position when you want it activated again.

This becomes more important if you have an Alexa device, as voice recordings are kept unless you delete them. To make matters worse, these recordings can be accessed by humans at Amazon – and if they can, so can hackers.

Fortunately, it’s easy to turn an Echo device’s mic off. There is a button on your device that controls the mic. Press that button to turn it off. Press it again when you want the device to be able to hear you again.

Turn off the camera

As much as you don’t want Alexa or Google to listen in on your meetings, you also don’t want them to have any visuals of it either. Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub have cameras. They are convenient for making video calls, but it’s highly advised that you switch them off when not needed.

Turning off Echo Show‘s camera:

The device’s camera and mics are easy to turn off. There’s a button on the top of the Show that controls inputs. Just press it off, and both cameras and mics shut off. The front LED will also turn red, signifying the inputs have been successfully shut down. You can still use the touchscreen without a hitch.

Turning off Google Nest Hub camera and mic:

  • To turn off the camera, swipe up from the bottom of the screen and tap Camera.
  • To disable both the camera and microphone, toggle the switch on the device to the off position.

Delete recordings

For Alexa devices specifically, you can request that your previous recordings be deleted. You can also ask the company not to record any of your future conversations. By keeping your records, you make Alexa more intuitive in personalized responses, but you expose your data.

Google Home devices work on a similar principle. To delete everything that you have ever said to the smart speaker, you have to navigate to My Activity in your Google account. From there, you will be able to erase all your conversations, questions and requests.

Turn on sound notification

It can be hard to accept that you might have to use your virtual assistant with diminished features. After all, it’s all those features that we love that make home and work life just that little bit easier.

If you absolutely need (or want) to use all the features as Google or Amazon intended, make sure you have sound notifications on. This feature is on by default in newer device models, so every time the assistant is activated, a sound will be played to let you know it is listening. If you are talking about something that you would rather the assistant not hear, wait a few seconds until it stops listening.

There are even more smart assistants out there than Alexa and Google. If you use any other devices, you should take steps to protect your privacy on those, too. Tap or click here to stop all your smart devices from listening to you.

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