The internet is always listening––or rather, your electronic devices always have an ear open. No, I’m not wearing an aluminum foil hat or going to track down Bigfoot in the spring. It’s not a conspiracy theory that our smart home devices, our Echos, Alexas and Siri are always listening. In fact, one woman in Portland, Oregon a few months ago realized her Amazon Echo recorded a private conversation between her husband and her, then sent it to someone on her contact list.
Amazon spokesperson Shelby Lichliter described the situation and shared how it happened:
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa.’ Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right.’ As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
It was a freak accident, however, there are ways to disable certain features on your device to ensure that your voice assistant won’t be leaking anything confidential.
To delete voice recordings:
Amazon Echo – Go into the Alexa app, and then in Settings, go to History and delete the recordings.
Google Home – Visit myactivity.google.com, choose filter by date and product, hit the check mark for Voice & Audio, then press delete.
You can also disable the traditional wake word like “Hey Siri,” “Okay Google,” “Alexa,” and “Hey Cortana” to ensure your personal assistant smart speaker doesn’t accidentally record your command.
Apple devices – Go to your device settings, then General, Siri and then switch the Hey Siri button to off.
Google Home – Visit myactivity.google.com page, then go to the menu, tap on activity controls, look down to the Voice & Audio tab and select pause Voice & Audio activity.
Cortana – Select the notebook icon, click Settings then choose “Hey Cortana” to turn off the setting.
Amazon Echo – Switch off the microphone by tapping the button on top of the device.
Along with these settings, set your device to “no contacts” if applicable and do not allow voice purchases.