Recently, I was asked by my local NBC affiliate to be the guest tech expert for a story about a double homicide in which police were attempting to get a search warrant for an Alexa device that was in the location where the murder took place. This isn't the first instance of this being done as there have been many cases dating back to 2019 with law enforcement wanting to get access to Alexa to solve a crime. I get questions from many people voicing their concerns about how much their Echo devices are listening in to them. There are always privacy issues when you deal with always-listening devices. Is Alexa listening to every word you and your family are saying? Read on to get a better understanding of how these devices work.
You should understand that Alexa devices are always-on devices, which means it's constantly listening for whatever wake word you've configured your devices to respond to. Once you say the wake word, it will respond to and will record anything that comes after it and store it in the cloud (if you allow it).
Now there are occasions when your Alexa devices may think you've said the wake word when you haven't. The technology behind voice recognition software isn't perfect. I know you have experienced instances where you've used voice to text and have mistakenly used words or phrases you didn't say and that's the big problem. This means your Alexa devices will record conversations without you being aware. It's instances like these law enforcement hopes for whenever they encounter an Alexa device where a crime is committed.
If you're wondering why your Alexa device is recording you, well it's so it can learn more about you and whoever interacts with it. Alexa and any other voice recognition software work better when it's able to record your conversations and use that data to understand what you want or what you meant to say. It's not at the level of self-awareness, but more of AI or artificial intelligence. Think of the software in your Echo devices as a program that is analyzing all interactions between you and your Alexa device to better provide the commands or instructions you are giving your device. Remember, your Alexa device is not only a smart speaker playing the latest tunes from Spotify or Pandora or providing you with weather alerts, it's a smart home hub that allows you to connect hundreds of smart home devices to it to automatically control your home. The folks at Amazon want to make sure your devices work personally for you.
By default, your Alexa's default settings record all interactions you have with the device at any time. So it's important for you to know Alexa can record conversations, but only after using the wake word. Now Amazon states that their Alexa devices aren't always listening and claim they aren't using this to target you with ads, but you need to take some precautions because you can't always trust what big tech companies are sharing with you.
For starters, you can check to see what conversations your devices have been recording.
Using the Alexa settings, here's how to check what conversations have been recorded:
Open the Alexa app and select More.
Locate the Alexa Privacy section under Settings.
You can start with Review Voice History and then set the filter to All Recordings.
Once you're here, you can access all of the stored conversations between you and your Alexa device. You also have the option to delete any conversations you've had or delete your entire conversation history at once. Deleting your history is helpful as you can remove sensitive and confidential conversations that could be potentially leaked if a criminal gains access to your Amazon account.
Deleting your history may be helpful if you've had conversations that contain sensitive or confidential information. But, ultimately, you're in control of what Alexa can store in its system. So feel free to play around with Alexa's privacy settings to suit your needs.
Alexa devices are very convenient. I have one in just about every room of my home because it allows me to control every aspect of my smart home ... kinda like controlling lights and camera while detecting any action that occurs outside the home. If you don't want Alexa listening to you, you might opt to get rid of your device or unplug it when you think you might have sensitive conversations.
I hope you can use these tips to understand a little more about how your Alexa devices interact with you and your home. If you need further assistance, please reach out to me with any questions you might have. I am always happy to help!
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