How to Stop Voice Assistants from Spying on You

Hey, Google, enough is enough already. 

Google was caught having contractors listening in to our conversations from its personal assistant, which sounds bad until you realize Google wasn’t alone in this. Apple and  Facebook were doing the same thing. And this week, Microsoft got stung by Vice’s Motherboard, and now admits it, too, listens.

The companies, which also include Amazon, have said they do this on a limited basis to learn and make their assistants better. Every time we say “Hey, Google,” our query is being recorded and stored. Ditto for Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Facebook Messenger and Microsoft’s Cortana.

Consumers are “trading privacy for convenience,” says Bret Kinsella, the editor of the blog, which tracks voice computing. “The likelihood of something they’re saying at home being picked up is low.”

But it happens. And it’s our job, if we’re uncomfortable with the practice, to delete the recordings and change our settings to stop the snooping. Because by default, the companies are set to monitor, leaving it to us to have to hunt and peck and stop them in their tracks.


Unlike the other companies, the e-tailer is actually upfront and couldn’t be more clear about how it uses humans to listen to our recordings made with the many Amazon Echo speakers, Fire TV streaming devices and via the Alexa smartphone app, once we say the Alexa “wake word.” Our queries “may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services,” Amazon says.

To get Amazon to stop having Alexa have humans listen to you, you need to open the Alexa smartphone app, where Amazon gives you the option to turn it off. Just say no. (Go to Settings, Alexa Privacy and select “Manage How your data Improves Alexa.”)

It’s within the app settings (under Review Voice History) that you can also enable “deletion by voice,” to say, “Alexa, delete what I just said,” or “Alexa, delete everything I said today” and have the recordings erased. Make sure your date range under “Review Voice History” is clicked to “all history,” and you’ll see an option to “delete all recordings.”

What you won’t see is an option for Amazon to stop recording you at all. Amazon doesn’t offer the ability to stop the e-tailer from recording and storing your queries and offered no explanation for why it doesn’t offer an opt-out to decline the practice.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jefferson Graham

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