It's been a few years since voice assistants entered the mainstream. If you need to make a call, take a note, or search for something, all you need to do is say the wake word and ask!
But as time passed, we started wondering, who is listening, when are they listening and what are they doing with all my recordings? And now, many have cameras in addition to microphones. So people are really freaked out.
If you've been wanting to enjoy the convenience of a voice assistant without sacrificing your privacy, here are the best ways to configure your smart home hub so Amazon, Facebook and Google can't watch and listen whenever they please.
How to optimize Echo Show for privacy
Out of Amazon's Alexa-enabled smart displays, the Echo Show 5 is the most privacy-aware edition yet. Right off the bat, the device includes a mechanical slide that can cover the front-facing camera, as well as a digital "privacy hub" for Alexa that can be accessed online. This is where you'll make any necessary adjustments to settings to fit your privacy needs.
If you're using an older Echo Show device, you can disable the microphone and camera by pushing the button on the top left of the device. You can change specific privacy settings using the online privacy hub as well. If you're not using the camera, it's worth shutting it down until you're ready to start it up again.
To access the privacy settings, download the Alexa app, navigate to Settings, then Alexa Account, followed by Alexa Privacy.
Here, you'll be able to listen to and delete audio recordings Alexa may have already captured, manage permissions and change how your data "improves Alexa." This option will allow you to stop Alexa from recording you. Simply open Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa and toggle the setting off to disable transcription.
Now, you'll know that Alexa is recording you only when the blue light is glowing. It should only come on when you say the wake word, so make sure it's something uncommon enough that it's not triggered by ordinary speech. Otherwise, you may find yourself spooked when Alexa "spontaneously" activates.
How to optimize Facebook Portal for privacy
Do you want Facebook to see even more of your life? If not, you can disable the camera and microphone on Facebook Portal by tapping the camera and microphone off button on the top of the device. Additionally, you can block the camera with the included cover that came with your device (it's a small, plastic flap that clips on to the top of the screen.)
You also have the ability to set a passcode so that only you can unlock the screen. To activate a passcode, go to the home menu of your portal and tap settings. Then, tap privacy, followed by passcode.
Your code can be between four and 12 digits, so make sure that only you know it. The privacy menu can also be used to delete voice recordings captured by Portal, as well as adjust how Facebook harnesses the data it's collected.
One major factor that can affect your privacy, however, is your status. Because Portal is based on the Facebook Messenger app, it will inform everyone on your friends list whether you're "online" or not.
This can encourage them to call or message you. If you want to keep your device private, open settings once again and turn on Do Not Disturb. This will keep your status hidden and automatically silence incoming calls.
How to optimize Nest Hub for privacy
Nest is owned by Google, and by extension, relies on your Google account to aggregate information on you. Luckily, adjusting the privacy settings of your Google account will also affect your Nest Hub, so make sure to take the time and choose what works best for your lifestyle. Click or tap here to see how to adjust your privacy settings and see what Google knows about you.
If you download the Nest app, you'll be able to review and delete video and audio footage captured by the Nest Hub. According to Google, the device only captures video when the light is glowing green, so if it isn't, you're in the clear.
Otherwise, open your app and select your camera from the home screen. Then, tap the gear icon in the upper right corner of the app and scroll to delete video history. Tap delete history to confirm.
For extra security
Living in a smart home doesn't have to be like 1984. With the proper know-how, you can get the benefits of a Jetsons-style house without the drawbacks.
Keep in mind, however, that common theme with all three of these devices is their ability to capture audio and video — events that can sometimes occur spontaneously.
Even with fully optimized privacy settings, it's still recommended you put your smart home assistant in a common area like a kitchen or living room rather than a private space like a bedroom. This way, there will be less of a chance for the device to turn on by accident.
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