Smart Speaker Privacy Concerns

black smart speaker

Smart speakers can be highly useful for older adults. You can use voice commands to launch a variety of useful tasks such as playing news or music, calling friends and family, or interacting with your other smart home devices – like adjusting lights or the thermostat.

Last year, news reports raised numerous privacy concerns that Google and Apple were listening to user recordings from smart speakers. Both companies were using employees – not AI-powered software – to review recordings of consumers’ voice commands and conversations created by their smart speakers.

Google Home and Apple HomePod speakers sent recordings back to their company of origin. Amazon Alexa also records all user interactions (which you can delete with the Alexa app). 

These companies claim to use recordings or transcripts for quality purposes and not for targeted advertising. However, if a smart speaker recording your personal, intimate conversations and sending them back to the mothership is concerning to you, here are measures you can take to minimize sharing your conversations with the company behind your smart speaker.

In this post, we’ll review steps you can take to prevent your smart speaker from sharing voice recordings of conversations and commands with the company that made them. We’ll cover:

  • How to prevent others from listening
  • How to mute your smart speaker
  • How to review and delete your recordings

As older adults come to rely more on smart home technology, it becomes increasingly important to maintain an awareness of privacy issues created or perpetuated when using these devices.

Amazon Alexa

Alexa sends user recordings back to Amazon for product improvement purposes, according to Amazon. 

Amazon Echo

How to Prevent Others from Listening

Do the following on your smartphone to prevent Alexa from sharing your voice recordings with Amazon.

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Tap the menu button on the top-left
  3. Tap Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa
  4. Switch off the setting to Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features
  5. Switch off the setting Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions

Amazon claims that switching off these settings may result in voice recognition and new features not working as expected.

How to Mute the Microphone on Your Amazon Echo Smart Speaker

To prevent your Amazon Echo smart speaker from hearing and recording your voice, press the mute button on top of the speaker. Note that muting the speaker also prevents the device from hearing your voice commands until unmuted. Consult the user manual for third-party speakers using the Amazon Alexa digital assistant.

How to Review and Delete Your Voice Recordings on Amazon

You can also manage your voice recordings with the Alexa app:

  1. Open the Alexa app menu and tap Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History, where you can search your recordings by keyword or sort them by date.
  2. Tap Delete All Recordings for Today to delete the current day’s recordings.
  3. Tap Date Range > All History to delete all of the recordings on the device. 

Erasing all recordings may cause the smart speaker not to recognize your voice, according to Amazon. Also, choosing this setting deletes only existing recordings and won’t prevent the speaker from recording you in the future without disabling recording as described above.

Two new Alexa commands allow you to delete your recordings selectively.

  • “Alexa, delete what I just said.”
  • “Alexa, delete everything I said today.”

This feature requires activation before use.

  1. Open the Alexa app menu
  2. Tap Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History
  3. Switch on enable deletion by voice

Apple Siri

Apple halted human review of Siri voice recordings on its HomePod in the Spring of 2019 but said it might resume the practice in the fall using a software update. Apple stores voice recordings for six months.

How to Prevent Others from Listening

Apple says it will not retain Siri recordings by default going forward. Consumers must opt-in to allow recorded audio samples to help improve Siri’s capabilities.

How to Mute the Microphone on Your Apple HomePod Smart Speaker

  1. Users can only mute Apple’s HomePod with the voice command: “Hey, Siri, stop listening.” HomePod will remind you that this command turns off the microphone and to tap the button on top to turn it back on. 
  2. You can re-enable the microphone after pressing the speaker button and saying, “Hey, Siri, start listening.”

The microphone remains on despite being muted to calibrate the speaker’s bass response. However, HomePod won’t respond to voice commands until you turn the microphone back on.  

Tips:

  • You can also mute HomePod using the Apple Home app. Go to Details and switch off Listen for Hey Siri.
  • The Details page includes an option to replace the “Listen for Hey Siri” function with pressing and holding the speaker button to start Siri.
  • You can also turn on settings that make HomePod light up or issue a sound when Siri is in use.

How to Review and Delete Your Recordings on Apple

Apple does not currently provide a way to access or delete any recordings Siri may have shared with the company without deleting your account.

Google Assistant

Google, like Apple, halted human review of voice recordings last year – after being served with a mandatory order from the EU. However, users can still opt out of supplying Google with their voice and audio activity.

Google Nest Mini

How to Prevent Others from Listening

Do the following on your smartphone to disable random voice recording on Google Home smart speakers.

  1. Open the Google Home app
  2. Open the Account tab on the lower right
  3. Select Manage your Google Account.
  4. Tap Manage your data & personalization
  5. Choose Voice & Audio Activity
  6. Switch the feature off

How to Mute Your Google Home Smart Speaker

Google Home has a mute button you can push, while the Home Max and Home Mini speakers have a toggle switch on the side. Pushing or toggling the mute function on your Google Home smart speaker disables voice commands until you unmute it.

How to Review and Delete Your Recordings on Google

Google allows you to access the voice recordings created by your smart speaker and delete them.   

  1. Open the Google Home app
  2. Tap the Account icon on the lower right
  3. Tap My Activity to see your recordings. 

You may also search by keyword or date, and delete recordings individually or in groups.

The most strict privacy option is to delete all your activity with a single command.

  1. Tap the three-dot menu
  2. Tap Delete activity by
  3. Select All Time
  4. Tap Delete to remove your entire voice recording history

Google also has a function that regularly deletes your voice recording data. To configure this feature:

  1. Go to the My Activity page
  2. Tap Choose to delete automatically

Google claims that erasing all your recordings could reduce your Assistant’s ability to differentiate your voice. This function only affects existing recordings and won’t prevent the speaker from re-recording you in the future.

Need Assistance with Your Smart Speaker and Other Technology?

Contact Prime of Life Tech for help setting up and using your smart speaker or other smart home technology. Call 720-319-7145 or contact Patrick Baker by email.

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