Protect Your Amazon Echo Privacy While Working From Home: 7 Simple Tricks

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Is Alexa always listening?


Amazon

For two years, we’ve been navigating the new normal brought on by COVID-19 and many of us are still adjusting to life as remote workers. And that likely won’t be changing soon as many employees want to continue remote work at some level even as health metrics begin to improve across the globe. 

With the switch to remote work, there have been concerns around the internet that Alexa may be listening to confidential conversations. This can be alarming, especially when the speaker can be activated without you knowing. For example, if it’s listening for the wake word and hears a similar-sounding term, your Echo might begin listening for your command.

Echo users have long been concerned about privacy. It’s known that your Echo device stores voice recordings and that Amazon employees can listen in to your Alexa conversations. While Amazon has recently made privacy improvements and it’s possible to delete your Amazon voice transcripts, maintaining privacy during WFH is still an issue. If you’re working from home and concerned about your work’s confidential information, look to these tips and tricks to keep your data protected.

Read also: 5 Alexa features that make working from home so much easier

1. Unplug or mute your Echo speaker

If you’re worried that Alexa is listening to confidential work conversations you’re having, whether it’s dealing with a customer’s account information or your company’s security information, simply unplug your Amazon Echo speaker while working. However, if you use your Echo for reminders, timers or daily routines, you can leave your speaker plugged in and turn the microphone off or place it in another room away from where you are.

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2. Ensure Alexa skills aren’t listening in 

In 2018, security researchers discovered malicious skills that exploit the Echo’s Unicode character sequence — which isn’t pronounceable. This leaves your speaker listening and waiting for you to say the wake word, allowing the app to listen in on you. The researchers have noted that those malicious apps have been removed, but you should still be cautious about which apps you download. 

Go through your skills settings in the Alexa app and disable any that you haven’t used in a while. Read the reviews on apps you’re unsure of to make sure nothing troublesome has been detected. 

Read Alexa and Google Assistant fall victim to eavesdropping apps for more information.

3. Manage and delete voice recordings on your Amazon Echo

You can view the audio transcripts of your Alexa commands and delete them in the Alexa app. Or, you can ask Alexa to delete your voice recordings. Amazon currently offers three Alexa commands that will allow you to delete your voice transcripts. Just say, “Alexa, delete what I just said” or “Alexa, delete everything I said today.” And to delete all of your previous recordings, you can say, “Alexa, delete everything I’ve ever said.”

If you prefer to delete your entire history manually, open the Alexa app and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History. Next, tap the downward-facing arrow next to Displaying and then the arrow next to Filter By Date. Then you will tap All History > Delete All My Recordings. 

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Amazon currently offers three Alexa commands that will allow you to delete your voice transcripts.


Chris Monroe/CNET

4. Keep Amazon employees out of your conversations

The Amazon Echo only starts recording when you say a command to Alexa. Once you say the wake word, like Alexa or Echo or some of the other wake word options, it starts recording the audio and stores it in the Alexa app on your phone. The transcripts and voice recordings are then uploaded to Amazon’s servers for processing. If you don’t want your Echo listening for the wake word at all times, turn the mic off by pressing the microphone’s mute button on top of the device.

Amazon says once they have the transcripts, they manually review and annotate a small fraction to help improve the voice assistant. However, you can opt-out of this feature and stop Amazon employees from listening to your recordings

In the Alexa app, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data. From here, select Choose How Long to Save Recordings > Don’t Save Recordings Confirm. Next, scroll down to Help Improve Alexa, and switch the Use of Voice Recordings to off. 

5. Make sure your Echo Show’s camera isn’t recording

Most of the Echo Shows in the Echo lineup have built-in privacy features. The Echo Show 5, the Show 8, the Show 10 and the latest Show 15, all have covers for the camera to protect your privacy.

But if you have one of the earlier Echo Show devices, like the first and second generation, it will not come equipped with the privacy shutters — but you can disable the camera by pressing the off button. You’ll know it’s off when the red light comes on. The lens won’t be covered, but you can always place a sticker or thick tape over the lens for an extra layer of protection. 

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The Echo Show 5, Show 8, Show 10 and Show 15 all have built-in privacy shutters. 


Chris Monroe/CNET

6. Prevent others from seeing what you ask Alexa

Everything you ask Alexa is saved in the Alexa app as transcripts and voice memos. So if you share the app with others, they’ll be able to see every command you’ve given Alexa. If you’re worried about someone seeing what you’ve said — for example, if you told Alexa to buy a gift — then delete the transcripts immediately (see tips 3 and 4 for guidance).

7. Secure your personal devices connected to Alexa

If you use Alexa to access your bank account information or have it connected to your home security system ($20 at Amazon), you’re probably wondering what’s stopping someone from accessing that information. Fortunately, most banking services require you to create a PIN code for extra security, so only you have access to your bank account info. 

Want to know more? Follow this guide for connecting Alexa to personal banking info

As for home security systems, find one that allows you to use a personal code so that only you or other household members can turn off the alarms. If your security system doesn’t have a PIN feature, keep your Echo away from doors and windows to prevent outsiders from having access — or better yet, get a device that works with Alexa

Want to know more about your Amazon Echo device? Check out these four places to avoid putting your Amazon Echo device and these tips for customizing your Amazon Echo so you love it even more.