Ways to protect your own privacy with Amazon's Alexa

Published: Jun. 7, 2018 at 7:21 AM CDT
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Many people own one an Amazon Dot, Echo, or similar voice-assisted device.

Perhaps they control your lights, heat, security system, but are these smart devices we've put in our homes spying on us?

Gautam Pant, an associate professor of Management Sciences at the University of Iowa, says the short answer is no they're not always spying, but people should think of Alexa like a virtual assistant.

Although it's always listening, it's not always recording what you're saying.

"In one case it actually records what you're saying and sends it over the internet to Amazon's machines right, so the listening is something that goes on all the time, recording is only when it hears that trigger it seems to hear that trigger or the wake word," says Pant.

If you have a Dot or an Echo, that wake word is usually "Alexa."

When Alexa hears that word it transfers that conversation into the digital cloud for processing.

You can actually change the "trigger" or "wake" word to something else other than Alexa on the Alexa app so you're less likely to accidentally record something and send it to someone.

Last month, a family in Portland Oregon discovered their Amazon Echo had recorded part of their private conversation and then sent to someone on their contact list.

That event instantly sparked concern over privacy issues for thousands of people who own these devices.

Pant says this event shouldn't deter people from using AI like devices.

Another thing users can do is opt not to share your contact list with the device so you're less likely to send a conversation to someone.

If you check the Alexa app, you can look at the history and browse all the commands you've ever given Alexa and choose to delete some of those commands.

Also a lot of people have multiple devices throughout their home so if you want to cut down on privacy issues, you can also opt not to have one in every part of your home.

Another thing you can do is turn off or mute Alexa's mic by pressing the microphone button, but just remember you won't be able to give it commands like play music or ask for the weather or news of the day.