Are you one of the millions of people who use a "smart assistant," like Amazon's Alexa?
The Alexa Voice Service can be used to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather and much more. You just need a hands-free speaker like the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot that you control with your voice.
The Echo has seven built-in microphones and beam forming technology so it can hear you from across the room, even if you have music playing. It's an amazing piece of technology.
However, having a device in your home that's always listening poses some privacy concerns. For example, is everything you say being recorded and if so, who has access to the recordings?
That's why you need to know about these essential Echo security settings to help alleviate those concerns.
Is Amazon Echo always listening?
The short answer is yes.
Alexa is activated when it detects one of its wake words, which are "Alexa," "Amazon," "Computer," or "Echo." You'll know that the device is ready for a command when the outer ring at the top glows blue.
When activated, Alexa allows you to search the web, play music, and even control other smart home devices you've added to your home network. For example, with the right smart gadgets, you can turn off the lights in another room, lock the front door, turn up the thermostat, etc.
The downside is that Amazon keeps an audio recording of every voice command you've issued to Alexa. When you give a command to Alexa, a recording of that command is stored on Amazon's servers.
According to Amazon, there is also a fraction of a second of audio before the wake word that is stored along with each recording. That fraction of a second gets saved along with your main command, and the recording ends after the command has been processed.
Are these recordings all bad? Not necessarily. They're meant to enhance your user experience and help Alexa fine tune its comprehension.
However, you're probably not comfortable having someone rummage through your internet search history. The same concern rings true with your Alexa requests.
How to hear all your Amazon Echo recordings (and delete them too!)
Many people don't realize you can actually review your voice log with the Alexa app on iOS and Android. The app allows you to scroll through your activity and listen to each recording.
If you'd like to play an old entry, pull up the Alexa app and visit the History section within the settings. Tap on the entry you'd like to review in greater detail and tap the Play icon to listen to the recording.
If the thought of having all your recorded requests stored in a database creeps you out, you are able to delete them. You need to remove the associated entry of each recording on the Alexa app. Here are the steps to delete recordings:
- 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.
Note: If you want to delete all the recordings with a single click, you must visit the "Manage Your Content and Devices" page at www.amazon.com/mycd.
Keep in mind that Amazon warns, "deleting voice recordings may degrade your Alexa experience."
How to keep your Echo from listening
Amazon does have a policy stating it won't release customer information without a valid, binding legal demand properly served. If that doesn't calm your fear of privacy loss, you can stop your Echo from listening 24/7. To do this you simply need to turn off Echo's microphone.
To turn the Echo's mic off, press the microphone off/on button on the top of the device. Whenever this button is red, the mic is off. To reactivate it, just press the button again.
Muting the mics will stop the Echo from listening; however, disabling the mics will also defeat the point of these virtual assistants. The always-on, always-listening nature of these smart virtual assistant speakers is what makes them truly compelling gadgets to have.
That said, it's still nice to know that you can mute the device during times you specifically don't want anyone (or anything) listening in.