Privacy is always a matter of concern for users of smart assistants. Many a times, friends who own one have quipped on how they may have had a conversation with someone at home and then weirdly started seeing ads on the Internet for the exact same thing. As creepy as it may sound, it does make you wonder as to what extent the gadgets are spying on you. So what’s the truth?
Amazon says that Alexa starts recording your requests, only after it registers the wake word- Alexa. As stated in its FAQ, these requests sent to Alexa are used to train it’s speech recognition and natural language understanding systems using machine learning. But the fact that this training relies partly on supervised machine learning or human review is a privacy concern amongst users. Also, though designed to record and respond to interactions that follow the wake word, false positives or accidental wakeup (and the subsequent unintentional recording) is another issue. And now with the increased WFH in recent times, people are now concerned about protecting confidential information around these smart ears. But there’s good news.
Amazon now gives Alexa users a couple of options to better manage the Privacy Settings. So, based on how vulnerable you may feel, there’s a couple of things you could do to feel safer. In decreasing order of your risk tolerance levels-
- If you seriously suspect Alexa’s snooping capabilities, press the mute button on the device to disable the microphone.
- Review your voice history (Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History) to learn what Alexa has recorded, including those from accidental wake up. (I just listened to an entire year’s conversations of my family with Alexa.) As you review, you can manually delete text transcripts, you wish to.
- Opt out of allowing your recordings to be used by Alexa developers by choosing how long to retain Recordings or not save them altogether.
- Completely wipe out all interactions you’ve ever made with your device – through the Alexa app or voice commands. Just say “Alexa, delete everything I’ve said”. It warns you that doing this may degrade the product’s performance – so presumably the data is gone forever from the servers.
Eventually it boils down to your degree of trust and balance. How much are you willing to trust the intentions of a smart assistant with the data it collects. And how much are you willing to compromise on your privacy for the convenience of a voice assistant. And depending on how you score, know that you have the options today to manage your data’s security and privacy.