Alexa is listening – what to do?


Are voice assistants bugs and spying tools?

If you use voice assistants, you usually want them to also listen so that questions can be answered and commands carried out. However, it is critical if this is always the case and not only when the users ask the AI ​​to do so. Many suspect that smart technology is being used for espionage and clandestine eavesdropping.

The past shows that manufacturers of intelligent components such as loudspeakers or smartwatches are not free from scandals. This also includes Amazon and Apple. However, they have learned from it and offer various ways in which smart health home users can resolve these concerns. We show what Alexa users can do so that Amazon’s voice assistant only listens when she should.

Tip 1: change the Alexa activation word

Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa does it like her relatives Siri from Apple and Google Assistant from Google: They only really listen after the activation word has been heard or a corresponding button has been pressed. In Amazon’s language assistant, the word is “Alexa”. So that they can react, Echo and Co. listen beforehand and “wait” for the signal word. Important: “Listening” takes place at this point in a decentralized manner on the loudspeaker or smart display. Only when the word has been heard is information processed in the Amazon cloud and sent to the Amazon server.

Is Alexa a spy?

(Screenshot: Alexa App)

From this point on, the spoken commands leave your own four walls and this is also necessary so that the commands are processed by Alexa-compatible devices or the favorite song is automatically played by the music streaming service. Users can recognize Alexa’s attention by the fact that the LED ring glows blue. With Echo speakers, Alexa visually draws attention to the fact that she is listening – secretly that’s not. If you also want to be informed acoustically that Alexa is listening, because z. For example, if there is no permanent view of the Echo loudspeaker, this can be set using the Alexa app:

  1. Select three lines with “More” in the lower right corner of the Alexa app.
  2. Tap “Settings”.
  3. Select “Device Settings”.
  4. Select the device for which you want to set a signal tone.
  5. Activate “Start of request” and / or “End of request” under “Sounds”.

The problem: The name “Alexa” is popular and Amazon’s voice assistant can also react to words that sound similar. For example, if a person in the movie is called Alexander. Therefore, in rare cases it can happen that Alexa reacts unintentionally without being specifically addressed.

The solution: Different names can be selected via app or computer. Configurable alternatives to Alexa are “Amazon”, “Echo” or “Computer”. However, individual activation words are not yet possible. (As of: 01/2021)

Here you can find detailed instructions on how to change Alexa’s activation word.

Tip 2: turn off Alexa and microphones

Smart technology providers such as Amazon have responded to privacy concerns. Your product lines, such as Echo or Echo Show, have an extra control button that mutes Alexa. In the case of echo loudspeakers, the status LED ring then lights up permanently red. Only when the button is pressed again does Alexa listen again. Thanks to this button, users can be sure that Amazon’s voice assistant and microphones are deactivated.

tip: In some places, such as B. in the bedroom, however, the red light can be annoying. If you want to be on the safe side, you should temporarily pull the plug.

Tip 3: delete past voice commands to Alexa

Since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Amazon and Co. in Europe have had to adhere to particularly strict security measures. This includes transparency towards the user as to which data is saved and which is not.

Therefore, Alexa users can check what they have said and delete voice recordings if desired.

The following commands are possible via voice control:

  • “Alexa, delete what I just said.”
  • “Alexa, delete everything I’ve ever said.”

The saved voice commands can also be deleted in the Alexa app. You can do this in just three steps:

  1. Select the three lines with “More” in the lower right corner of the Alexa app.
  2. Tap “Settings” and then “Alexa Privacy”.
  3. Make the desired deletion settings.

One of the deletion settings is that users’ voice recordings are automatically deleted immediately after they have been spoken and processed or only after three or 18 months. The settings can also be made in the browser using the Amazon account.

Voice histories can be deleted in just a few steps using the Alexa app

Voice histories can be deleted in just a few steps using the Alexa app

(Screenshot: Alexa App)

Alternative way via app:

  1. Tap on “More”.
  2. Select “Activities” “
  3. At the top, switch from the “Activities” tab to “Voice history”.
  4. View gradients and delete them if desired. You can choose between “Today”, “Yesterday”, “Last 7 Days”, “Last 30 Days”, “All History”, “User Defined”.

tip: You can find detailed instructions in our How-To Delete Alexa voice recordings – this is how it works. If you want to find out more about Alexa and data protection, we recommend our Amazon exclusive interview on data protection and Alexa.

Note: Deleting the voice messages prevents Alexa from adapting to the individual habits of its users. Because this is the goal behind their activities and not espionage projects. As an AI, she always learns from the voice recordings, can understand instructions and commands better and better and B. more efficiently control devices on instruction in the smart health home.


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