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Managing Your Privacy With Voice Assistants

Smart home technology and voice assistants claim they are only there to help, and in a lot of ways, that’s true. But it’s crucial to recognize the ways in which Amazon, Facebook, and Google benefit from your everyday voice requests. Before you get an Amazon Echo, or other voice assistant, read this handy guide.

Alexa collects more than commands

Who is Alexa, the voice-assistant behind Amazon’s Echo? And is it a product you want in your home? Recent reports show that as of 2018, voice assistants are now in 100 million homes worldwide. And by 2020, that number is expected to double. So, what’s the issue? Well, to put it simply: there is a constant flow of communication happening between the voice assistant and its parent company. Users are paying a one-time fee to get the voice assistant, but what they don’t realize is that they’re providing that company with a lifetime of data. Every time you ask for recommendations, reminders, or anything at all, that information is literally recorded and saved to create your virtual profile. The sum of information like the people you live with, your eating habits, sleeping habits, interests, purchasing habits, and more.

This concept of the virtual profile is not just theory, and the patents that Amazon and Google have filed for prove it. Amazon patented the Echo’s ability to know what consumers are feeling and, in turn, influence them with “highly targeted audio content, such as audio advertisements or promotions.” Amazon’s patent noted that the Echo could recommend cough drops, soups and medication if it hears coughing and sniffling. Google patented an incredibly similar feature for their Home Hub device as well.

But Alexa has been getting confused

When these devices work properly, they only record audio after hearing their respective activation command. For Amazon it’s “Alexa.” For Google, it’s “okay Google.” But what if you say something that sounds pretty similar to those commands? Unfortunately, these kind of malfunctions have already hit the news. Last year, a bug with the precursor to the Home Hub, Google’s Home Mini, caused entire conversations to not only record but get beamed back to Google even when the trigger had not be spoken. The Echo similarly sent a private family conversation to a random contact in the family’s address book. The family only realized their Echo had been listening when the contact received the audio file.

Now, if you’re reading this and you already have a voice assistant device, don’t worry. If you manage the data your device collects, you shouldn’t have any issues. Here’s how you can find, manage, and delete the recordings.

How to Delete Recordings from Amazon:

  • Go to Manage Your Content and Devices on the bottom section of the Amazon site
  • Select the Devices tab
  • Choose your Alexa device.
  • Select Manage Voice Recordings
  • Delete any recordings you don’t want stored
  • How to Delete Recordings from Facebook
  • From the Facebook home page, select the drop-down menu on the top right
  • Select Activity Log
  • You can search for and delete voice recordings from this screen

How to Delete Recordings from Google

  • Head to Google’s Voice & Audio Activity page
  • Go to More, then Delete Options
  • From there, click Advanced, and then All Time

Take a look at what’s recorded on your profile, but moving forward you can save yourself some of the hassle by using the mute button. To mute, press the button on the top of your device. When the button turns red, the microphone is off and it is muted. Always keep in mind that the data that these companies collect provides an incredible amount of insight into our thoughts, habits, routines, preferences. These collection practices are currently unregulated on the federal level, so it’s up to the consumer manage their privacy. Scroll through your recordings on a regular basis and you should be fine.


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