Devices that use Alexa as a voice assistant, especially Amazon devices, help users do several things without effort, like connecting with friends and family, shopping, ordering food and cabs, and whatnot. But some people worry that Alexa is always listening. So, is it true?
While Alexa works by voice commands, she doesn’t eavesdrop or spy. However, it concerns when Alexa records your voice after hearing the wake word and keeps a record of your voice commands. To stop this, keep Alexa on mute, delete the recordings, limit data collection, and update your software.
You won’t understand when and how Alexa spies on you. There are several situations where Alexa can spy on you. But we also have ways to keep her from spying. Please read this article till the end as we explore how you can stop Alexa from spying.
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Understanding Alexa’s Listening Behavior
Alexa is a voice assistant by Amazon.
Besides Amazon devices, Alexa can interact with others like Ecobee, Fibaro, Belkin, Wink, IFTTT, SNAS, and others.
Before learning how to stop Alexa from spying, it is crucial to learn Alexa’s listening behavior.
Since Alexa is a voice service by Amazon, it will listen to the voice commands said by the users to perform tasks.
Alexa is built on NLP or Natural Language Processing, which can convert speech into work, sound, and ideas.
Alexa will record whatever you ask her, break them into individual sounds, determine the vital work to make sense and perform functions.
Alexa will need a wake word to wake up and perform her commanded tasks.
Generally, a default wake word for most Amazon devices is ALEXA.
But you can change and keep something else, like Echo, Amazon, Computer, or Disney.
I used to use ALEXA most of the time. But one day, I saw Alexa replying to words and names that sounded nearly ALEXA, for example, Alex, Lexi, Elka, algaes, etc.
After some time, I switched it to DISNEY.
Sometimes, I also change it to ECHO or COMPUTER.
Changing the wake words sometimes is an excellent way to keep outsiders from accessing Alexa.
Since Alexa is a voice service, it will always listen to you whenever you call out its wake word.
The devices have multiple microphones to pick up different sound waves on each mic.
Each microphone will record the sound events at different times with a different wave, but these differences will be slight.
However, some people feel concerned about this. Whenever we call out for Alexa, she responds.
Does it mean Alexa always listens, records, and spies on us?
That may not be the case.
In most cases, we know that Alexa will only record you whenever you ask her to perform a specific task so that she can reply.
It means that Alexa will not listen to you the other times.
She will become active and listen to you only when you call the wake word.
Once she has completed the task you requested, she will again turn it off and won’t record anything.
How to stop Alexa from spying?
Since Alexa is a voice assistant, it will respond to you whenever you ask her to perform tasks.
As a voice assistant, her work is to record whatever you say to send it to the Amazon server and then receive a reply for you.
At the same time, Alexa has access to specific skills containing your personal information.
So, Alexa can spy on you through these voice recordings and device access. But how do you stop Alexa from spying on you?
After some research, I got hold of some instances where Alexa can spy on you and ways to stop her from doing it.
So, keep reading till the end to stay safe from spying:
Alexa’s Wake Word and Privacy
You’ll need to use a wake word to activate Alexa and start giving it commands.
A wake word is a phrase that will help Alexa wake up, communicate with the user, and perform specific tasks.
Once you call the wake word and ask Alexa to perform a task, the signal is sent to the speech recognition software in the cloud to be processed.
Alexa will then convert the response into audio and return it to your device.
Alexa will record only when she hears the wake word.
But what if she hears words close to her wake word?
Smart speakers can be triggered unintentionally up to 19 times a day by similar-sounding words to their wake word.
So this indicates that your smart speaker listens to you around the clock.
Several words sound like Alexa.
Whenever Alexa hears it, she misinterprets it as a wake word and gets triggered.
She will start recording your conversations if you are talking to someone near her.
To prevent your Alexa from misinterpreting words, keep Alexa off when you don’t need her, set specific voice profiles so she doesn’t respond to everyone’s voice, and choose a unique wake word.
How to Turn off the Follow-Up Mode?
Another wake word-related issue is the FOLLOW UP MODE feature.
When you turn on this feature in your Alexa-enabled devices, the devices will be able to make a follow-up required without the need to say the wake word.
With this feature, anyone can access your Alexa and spy on you through your voice assistant.
To prevent this, turn it off. Go to Alexa app → Menu → Alexa Devices → Select your device → Turn off Follow-up Mode.
Managing Voice Recordings
Alexa does not save everything you say, but it can collect enough data to understand your voice and preferences.
According to Amazon, information can be used to make the devices better and more accurate.
But some people do not find this safe as they are highly concerned about their privacy and security.
Back in 2016, it came to light that Arkansas cops had once requested data from an Amazon Echo device to aid them in prosecuting a suspect.
This may sound helpful, but it also declares that Amazon Echo devices and every other speaker gather unsettling amounts of data.
Another similar incident happened in 2018, Kiro 7.
Amazon Echo has recorded a few conversations and sent them to a person’s employee.
Amazon has acknowledged that these recent events were uncommon and assured to take measures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
Despite being uncommon, such things can worry us about how much data these devices can store without our knowledge.
To prevent this from happening, you can delete all the voice recordings from your Alexa devices.
There are three commands to do it:
- Alexa, delete what I just said.
- Alexa, delete everything I said today.
- Alexa, delete everything I have ever said.
If you think that Alexa cannot delete properly through the commands, do it manually.
Settings → Alexa Privacy → Review Voice History → All History → Delete all my recordings.
You have successfully deleted all the voice recordings.
If you forget to delete the recordings or need some for now, you can select how long to save the recordings.
Alexa can keep a temporary recording of what you say.
If you do not want to delete the recordings in the cloud, you can delete them once they are sent to the Alexa app on your smartphone.
To set up this feature:
Settings → Alexa privacy → Manage your Alexa Data → Choose how long to save the voice recordings
If you do not want to save any recordings, select DON’T SAVE RECORDINGS.
Limiting Data Collection
Since Alexa works by voice commands, there are chances that Alexa can collect data without the user’s knowledge.
As I said earlier, several words are similar to Alexa’s wake words.
These words can make Alexa misinterpret as a wake word, and she will activate and listen to whatever you say.
There are ways where you get to decide and control how much data Alexa is allowed to collect and how much should be deleted.
Please turn off the voice recordings, manually delete all the recordings permanently from Alexa history, or automatically delete all of them after a certain period.
To enable this, open your Alexa app and click MORE.
Go to Settings → Alexa Privacy → Manage your Alexa Data → Choose how long to save recordings → Don’t save recordings → Confirm.
I have already stated this in the previous point.
Instead of DON’T SAVE RECORDINGS, there will be other options after you click on HOW LONG TO SAVE RECORDINGS, and you can choose anyone of them:
- Save recordings until I delete them.
- Save recordings for 18 months.
- Save recordings for 3 months.
This will allow Alexa to use the saved recording for a certain period. Once they get deleted, Alexa cannot use them.
However, by that time, more recordings will be gathered.
I personally prefer DON’T SAVE RECORDINGS.
For extra safety, scroll down to HELP IMPROVE ALEXA, and switch the USE OF VOICE RECORDINGS toggle to Off.
Then tap TURN OFF.
If you use Alexa to send messages, switch the toggle/s in the USE MESSAGES TO IMPROVE TRANSCRIPTION part off.
Disconnect the contacts and calendar from the smart devices if you do not want Alexa to use the calling and scheduling functions set in the device.
This can also stop Alexa from knowing your plans and spying on you.
Implementing Voice Profiles
You can set up voice recognition profiles for Alexa.
Enabling this feature will allow Alexa to wake up and reply to the voices registered in the profiles.
Alexa is a voice assistant and replies to commands.
If you do not have any specific voice profiles, Alexa can wake up at anyone’s commands.
When someone calls out Alexa’s wake word by mistake or something similar while talking to you, Alexa can wake up and start listening to your conversations.
But with set-up voice profiles, Alexa will not reply to any outsider’s voice except those whose profiles are set.
So this can keep Alexa from spying on you all the time and also prevent attackers from hacking Alexa and spying on you.
How to disable Voice Purchasing?
Disabling voice purchases will stop Alexa from spying on you and hackers from knowing about your personal information.
When you do a voice purchase, Alexa can record your voice command and send it to the Amazon server, where they will track your shopping habits with voice recordings and target you with advertising.
At the same time, Alexa will access your Amazon account information to see the purchase details and track your shopping habits.
If you have an online payment method through credit cards or payment apps, Alexa can see all the details and track your spending habits.
Turning the feature off can stop Alexa and Amazon from learning about your shopping habits and protect your privacy.
There are two ways to turn off voice purchases:
- Open the Amazon Alexa app from your phone.
- Tap on the More tab from the navigation bar at the bottom.
- Now, click and go to Settings.
- Under Settings, go to Account settings, tap Voice purchasing, and turn it off.
There will be several safety measures that will help you to stop voice purchasing completely.
You can disable voice purchasing completely on your Alexa. With this, no one, including the user, can purchase by voice.
Click on the payment method set on your account, tap the EDIT PAYMENT METHOD button, and follow the prompts.
You can also enable the purchase confirmation in Alexa, but only the users registered in the VOICE MATCH will make the purchase.
That will need a 4-digit passcode to confirm the purchase.
Disabling the purchase confirmation can remove all the restrictions and allow anyone to purchase using Alexa.
Disabling the feature on the web
You will turn off voice purchases from your laptop or computer via the Amazon website.
- Go to the Amazon Alexa website on the browser and log in to your Amazon account.
- Go to the Account settings from the left tab.
- Under the Account settings, tap on Voice Purchasing.
- Turn off the toggle next to the Purchase by Voice. This will stop all Alexa voice purchases.
- To control the voice purchases further, enable the 4-digit voice code option to confirm the Amazon purchases and payment authorization.
- After that, set a 4-digit pin, and you are done.
Using the Mute Button
Every device will have microphones to record your voice commands so that Alexa can respond to them.
At the same time, you will also have a mute button.
This button will allow Alexa to stop listening to your conversations.
Alexa can wake up and start recording your conversations if she hears any word similar to her wake word.
If you do not want this, find the “microphone button with a slash” icon on your smart device and press it.
The icon can look different based on the type of device you have.
But typically, this is the standard icon style.
After you press the button, verify it by checking for a short tone and the indicator turning red.
As long as the device’s indicator light stays solid red, your microphone is off, and Alexa won’t be able to listen or record anything you say.
To use Alexa, press the same icon again.
Alexa is ready to use as before if the indicator is no longer red.
How to review the permissions granted to Alexa and third-party apps and maintain privacy?
Whenever you install any apps or skills, for example, the Alexa app or any other third-party skills, be it from renowned developers or third-party apps, they will want permission to access some features of your devices.
Alexa permissions are the settings that determine what information Alexa can access from your smart devices.
If you grant all the permissions Alexa asks, Alexa can receive most of your personal information and spy on you.
For example, letting Alexa access your contacts will let her to know all the contacts and your calling preferences.
Echo devices can send audio messages to another person without your consent. To stop this, don’t give access to Alexa.
Connecting third-party app to Alexa
When you connect any third-party skill to connect it to Alexa for a smarter house, it will need specific permissions, like accessing voice records or location information.
When a third party gets access to use Alexa, the skills can receive all the information about you from Alexa.
Since Alexa listens to and records all your commands, the third-party skills that have permission to access Alexa will get this information.
Several Amazon third-party skills can make your house smarter once you connect them to Alexa.
Amazon claims these skills are approved, but many hackers can duplicate them and disguise them as from renowned companies.
Once these skills get Alexa’s access, they can gather information about your whereabouts from all the devices using Alexa.
So, when you download skills, you must be careful about the permissions you grant them.
To review and manage these permissions, go to the Alexa app → Settings → Alexa Privacy → Skill permissions.
Here you can change the individual skill permissions to on and off according to your preference and choose the requested data type.
Network Security Measures
A secured house network can protect your devices from malware, and strong passwords prevent hackers from hacking the devices.
Here, Alexa does not directly spy on you.
It is the hackers that will first hack Alexa or the device.
Then through Alexa, they will spy on you to collect your personal information and conversations.
Malware is software that most hackers use to spy on you and steal your information.
With a secured network, there are lower chances of such things.
With strong passwords, hackers will find it difficult to get access to your accounts or house networks.
As a result, they won’t be able to hack Alexa and make her spy on you.
Regular Software Updates
Amazon keeps updating its apps to improve its security patches, fix bugs, and add extra features.
When you keep the apps updated, the improved security patches can protect Alexa from being hacked by malware.
Therefore, it will stop Alexa and the hackers from spying on you.
With updated apps, you get new features that can improve security and prevent anyone, including Alexa, from spying on you.
New updates also eliminate the bugs and prevent Alexa from recording old histories and conversations.
With every update, you receive features that will stop Alexa from spying.
While auto-updates work, sometimes, they don’t.
In that case, you have to check the accounts, apps, and devices to check for updates and update them.
To update the apps, go to your Amazon profile and check for updates. If you find any, update it immediately.
Do the same for the Alexa app on your smartphones.
For the devices:
- Make sure that Alexa is connected to the Wi-Fi network.
- Whenever the indicator light glimmers, it means an update is processed.
- Command “Alexa, check for updates,” she will start looking for updates and update it if any.
- If you have an Echo Show, go to the SETTINGS, then DEVICE OPTIONS, and CHECK FOR UPDATES.
Geofencing and Location-Based Privacy
In geofencing, GPS is used to define a virtual boundary around a location.
You can control Alexa through geofencing whenever it enters or goes beyond the boundary.
When you are away from home, you can see and control Alexa’s behavior through geofencing.
Alexa won’t be able to spy on you if you are beyond the boundary of your house.
It can also access your personal information when you are in the house or have left the boundary of your house.
This limits the amount of information Alexa can access.
As a result, Alexa won’t be able to spy on you.
Remember that these settings are not guaranteed.
Giving Alexa permission to listen to commands and execute tasks outside your home means it can listen to your commands and access your personal information.
If you are concerned about privacy, you can have several other voice assistants instead of Alexa.
But note that no voice assistants are foolproof.
No voice services will give you the 100% privacy you want.
If you have voice assistants and are concerned about privacy, you must adjust the privacy settings.
The methods I have shared for Alexa to stop her from spying are also available in the other smart speakers and voice assistants.
I have researched and shortlisted some voice assistants that focus on privacy concerns and do not collect too much data.
Below are some of the ideal ones according to me:
- Sonos One
- Google Home
- Apple HomePod
However, as I said, no voice assistant services are entirely safe.
To prevent them from spying:
- Use strong passwords.
- Delete voice recordings.
- Turn off voice purchases.
- Use safe and secure home networks.
- Be mindful before you install any skills and grant them permission related to Alexa.
- Use the Mute button if you do not want Alexa to listen to you.
Alexa can make our lives easier, but at the same time, it can spy on you and collect your personal data, which hackers can further misuse once they access your Alexa devices. To prevent your Alexa from spying on you, take proper precautions, like choosing a unique wake word, muting her when not needed, managing the voice recordings, limiting data collection, disabling voice purchasing, securing the house network, choosing strong passwords, and keeping the apps updated.
You must also manage the third-party skills and be careful before granting permission to these apps and Alexa. You can geofence and use location-based privacy settings to track Alexa’s behavior and stop her from spying. Keep the house network safe to avoid hackers hacking Alexa and making her spy on you.
There are several alternatives to Alexa, but no voice services can provide you with the 100% security you want. Adjust the privacy settings to prevent Alexa from collecting data as much as possible.
Why is my Alexa responding to other voices?
As a voice assistant, Alexa can respond to all the voices around her. If you do not want that, make a voice profile and add certain voices to let Alexa identify and reply to those voices only.
How do I prevent others from using Alexa?
Press the mute button on your Alexa devices. This will not only stop others from using Alexa but also stop Alexa from listening and spying.
Reference: Alexa Wikipedia