For one reason or another, people find it fun and exciting to go to a store and purchase a device that comes with a talking virtual/digital assistant.
Perhaps they think that all the random conversations they can have with their device are not only well worth the time but also the money.
Of course, this is not always the case.
Digital assistants and devices carrying those digital assistants did not become popular until Amazon, the world’s biggest e-commerce giant, launched the company’s first virtual assistant device—Amazon Echo.
Now, most people know Amazon Echo by the name of Alexa.
What Is the Problem with Alexa Listening to Us?
Alexa users are granted the opportunity to have random and long conversations with their Alexa device.
A random conversation could start with the Alexa user asking something about the weather.
Very quickly, the conversation can move into an area where the user is asking Amazon Alexa to help them cope with another bad day at the office.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with asking a computer about your daily life, sometimes things are not as they seem on the surface.
For example, a lot of users would like to think that when they’re talking to Alexa, they are talking to a machine that can understand everything they are saying with the proper context.
But is that really the case? Well, according to Bloomberg, it’s not.
In fact, Amazon has hired thousands of employees from all over the world to take a look at some of the information Alexa users are sharing with their devices.
This gives rise to a possibility where someone might actually eavesdrop on a given Alexa user’s conversation without the Alexa user knowing anything about it.
But is that really surprising given what we have been hearing about various other technology companies in the media?
According to the big technology companies, it’s all about consent.
A person is giving consent to share their data with a company like Amazon when the person is buying an Amazon device.
We have also come to know that Amazon stores this data for a considerable period of time.
And one can’t simply get on the safer side of things by clearing their online activities from their browser history or from the device itself.
Current technology does not allow computers/machines to work on tasks completely autonomously. They still need help.
So when Alexa blows your mind away by answering some of your most profound questions correctly and promptly, this should give you an indication that there may be a person behind the scenes carrying most of the grunt work.
We do not know if Amazon is violating the privacy of its users. But it is close, nevertheless.
As always, the company can always fall back to the excuse that the user consented to the company’s terms and conditions of using its device when the person actually purchased the product.
So the obvious question is: How do you stop Alexa from listening to you all the time without your consent?
Let’s find out.
Change Your Amazon Alexa Privacy Settings
It goes without saying that if you don’t want Alexa listening to you without you knowing about it or violating your online privacy, you need to make some changes to your Amazon Alexa privacy settings.
Amazon knows that people would not want to utilize or purchase Amazon Echo if they didn’t have options for changing privacy settings.
That is one of the reasons why Amazon Echo and/or Alexa allows users to not only know their privacy settings but also change them as they see fit.
After changing your privacy settings, you can be certain that Alexa will not listen to you without you explicitly knowing about it.
Here are the steps you need to take:
- First, you need to make sure that you have the official Alexa app on a given Amazon device or on your smartphone. It’s available on the Google Play Store here and on the Apple App Store here.
- Open the official Alexa app.
- Then choose the Alexa Account option .
4. After that, you need to select Alexa Privacy.
5. Then look under the option that tells you something along the lines of: Manage how your data enhances/improves Alexa.
6. Here, you have the option of clicking the button that appears next to the option Help Alexa Develop New Features in order to turn it off. This option is also accessible under the Use My Messages to Improve/Enhance Transcriptions.
Bonus Steps You Can Take to Stop Alexa from Listening to You Without Your Approval
Of course, there are lots of other steps that you can take as an Alexa user to further guard your privacy and stop Alexa from automatically spying on the stuff that you do and say.
Here is a short list of those things:
Hit the mute button and turn off the option ‘Always listen’
You do not want to leak your private conversations to various third-party companies and advertisers. To prevent this, you need to mute your Alexa device’s microphone.
At this point, you probably do not need us to tell you that the always-on Alexa listening feature is anything but concerning.
You could be talking about something very sensitive and critical only to notice that Alexa is secretly listening to you.
To put an end to that, you need to press the microphone mute button, which appears right on the top of your given Alexa device.
Your Alexa device should show you red lights when it is done muting the microphone.
When that happens, your device would no longer have the facility to listen to whatever it is that you are saying without your permission.
Now, if you wish to turn that feature back on again, you can simply press that button again to make everything go back to normal.
Delete your history
There is no doubt that Alexa can do lots of helpful and entertaining things. For example, if you are a cat person then it can potentially make cat noises for your amusement.
However, can you really be sure that other such recording would not come to haunt you at some future date? When it comes to online privacy, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
You don’t need to have a lot of insight into data or technology to know that if a company is storing your conversations for any period of time, then that can have consequences for your online safety.
To take an example, who is to say that someone would not go through a person’s previous Amazon Alexa recordings to gather evidence while trying to win child-custody or a divorce case.
Luckily, you don’t have to worry about such issues because we have a solution: Simply delete all of your recordings.
This should not bother you in the least bit since you already kind of doing that with your web browser on a regular basis. So it’s basically the same thing with Amazon Alexa.
In order to delete (and listen to as well, if you want to) your stored recordings, you need to open up the official Alexa app and then open Settings. Then click on History. From there, just hit Clear History.
Do take note that you will only delete the recordings on your device in this way.
To remove them from Amazon cloud, you have no other choice but to go and delete them from there separately.
Disable the option to send feedback to developers
We don’t recommend that users trust Amazon when it says that the company only keeps a randomly selected user conversation in order to improve the service that Alexa provides to users.
Amazon has done a lot in terms of marketing and word-of-mouth to have you believe that it uses all the conversations without ever exposing the identity of the accompanying account and/or user.
Again, you don’t have to trust Amazon. Instead, what you should do is to take precautions to protect your online privacy.
More specifically, you should turn off settings such as Help Alexa Develop New Features and Use Messages to enhance/improve Transcriptions.
Unplug your Alexa device
This is probably the most convenient way you can stop Alexa from spying on you. Just unplug the device when you don’t need it.
No need to take all the technical measures we mentioned above.
If your device does not have power, it can’t listen to your conversations no matter what machine learning algorithms Amazon puts in its Alexa devices.
Buy a VPN
All of the discussion above should not lead you to believe that Amazon is evil. It is not.
But that does not mean it cares about your data either.
You want to stop Alexa listening to your commands without your consent. And it doesn’t matter if Amazon is a trustworthy company or a bad one.
Besides, who is to say that a hacker can’t get their dirty hands on a given user’s recordings and other personal data. Will Amazon protect the user? Again, you can’t be sure.
The solution here is to simply purchase and install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service and redirect your online traffic via a remote (and mostly reliable) VPN server that is located in a country of your choice.
Doing so will encrypt your online traffic and hide information that can reveal your identity.
A VPN is a tool that protects you and your data from top to bottom. So go and get that to protect your privacy from hackers and stop Alexa from listening to you.