Does the Amazon Echo Eavesdrop?
The Amazon Echo is one of the most popular smart speakers on the market. Like its main competitors, Amazon’s speaker offers the ability to browse the internet, make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play music and video, check weather and traffic info, and more. The Echo can also be used to control smart devices around the house.
In order to tell you the current temperature or turn off the lights in the bedroom, your Echo needs to hear you when you talk to it. Since it still does not come with the ability to predict when you will need it, the Echo needs to be constantly on. It is thus only natural to wonder if your Echo may be eavesdropping on you.
Is Your Echo Eavesdropping on You?
To get things straight right away, the Amazon Echo is listening to you. Always. When plugged in, the Echo is listening and waiting for you to say the wake word and activate it. When in passive mode (before it detects the wake word), the Echo only monitors the environment. On the other hand, when it picks up the wake word, it starts recording. Once the conversation ends, the Echo uploads it to the cloud.
Likewise, when you say “Alexa/Echo/Amazon/Computer, stop” (depending on your chosen wake word), your Amazon Echo speaker will stop recording and return to its listening/monitoring mode.
Should You Be Worried?
You’ve likely heard the news stories surround Amazon subpoenas for criminal court cases which makes you wonder; Is Alexa recording my personal conversations even when I haven’t activated her?
In these cases, we’ve not seen much information regarding whether Alexa actually heard anything she wasn’t intended to. But it’s important to note that in both high-profile cases, authorities did gain access to her recordings yet the official word remains; Alexa didn’t record anything unless she was activated to do so.
Having a voice-controlled device listening to you can be a bit unnerving to some. This goes double if the same device is connected to the internet and has access to your contacts list. Even though highly unlikeable, things could go wrong with such a device. For example, your Echo speaker might misinterpret a conversation and call a random number from your contacts list or order something online.
On the brighter side of things, such occurrences are extremely rare and highly unlikely, as the Echo follows an exact procedure before performing each task. Also, the command “Echo/Alexa, Stop” stops its recording mode and keeps it turned off until you say the wake word again.
But if you’re worried about it, there are steps you can take to minimize the chances of your Echo performing an unsolicited task.
What to Do About it?
- Turn Off Your Echo. If you want to prevent your Echo from listening to you, turn off its microphone. To do that, push the speaker’s microphone button. This is not a bypass, but a real switch. Once you do it, the Echo won’t be able to pick up anything until you turn the microphone on again. Use this option only if you want to completely disable your Echo.
- Disable Voice Purchases. You can also disable voice purchases if you’re afraid your Echo might accidentally buy something on your behalf. Chances that something like this might happen are microscopic but if you feel the need, disable this feature. Alternatively, you could set a PIN which would be required to finalize purchases.
- Disable Voice Calling. The Amazon Echo allows you, through Alexa Calling and Messaging service, to call and message contacts from your list. The person on the other side is required to have a device run by Alexa and have Alexa Calling and Messaging enabled. You can disable this function, as well.
- Disable Drop-Ins. The Drop-Ins are a fun way to communicate with other people who use Alexa-driven devices. They allow people to tap in and hear and see you through your device. Of course, each time someone tries to drop in, your Echo speaker will ask you if you want to let them in. You can leave the Drop-Ins available to your entire contacts list, your family members, or completely disable it.
- Turn off ‘Use of voice recordings’ – Alexa, like many other services, takes record of your activities to better underestand how well your devices are working. All you need to do is follow the ‘Settings’>’Alexa Privacy’>’Manage Your Alexa Data’ path and toggle the option off. Just take note; if you turn this function off, your Alexa may not receive necessary updates.
How to Delete What’s Recorded
If you’re not satisfied with the options given in the previous section, you can always choose to delete what your Echo recorded. If you want to do it, follow these simple steps.
- Open the Amazon Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
- Tap on the “Menu” icon in the lower right-hand corner.
- Once in the “Main Menu”, navigate to the “Settings” tab and tap on it.
- Next, tap the “Alexa Privacy” button.
- Now select the option “Review Voice History” option. Of course, you can also check the ‘Review History of Detected Sounds” option as well.
- Now, choose a time frame you’re looking to investigate.
- There, the Alexa app will show you the list of all commands it has recorded. It might happen that some recordings are not available in text format. If you click on them, Alexa will play you the audio recording. Select the ones you want to delete and tap on “Delete”.
Keep in mind that you can also provide feedback to the developers on this page too. Simply tap the thumbs up or thumbs down option under the recording.
Amazon warns that deleting Alexa’s history might impact your user experience, as Alexa uses it to learn how to serve you better.
Alexa will listen to and record the background noises while activated (for example; you’re giving a command and someone else is talking in the background), but she isn’t supposed to record outside of that. It is possible for law enforcement agencies to subpoena Alexa and therefore it is a tool that can be used for or against you in some cases.
Along with myriad benefits, the Amazon Echo does come with its set of weaknesses and potential risks. It is thus beneficial to know how to prevent or minimize the chances of unwanted and unpleasant events.
Ultimately, the average user shouldn’t be too concerned with Alexa’s ability to listen to your conversations after taking proper precautions. After all, your smartphone is also Siri or OK Google enabled which performs much of the same functionality of Amazon.
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