Is Alexa secretly listening to your private conversations?

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Do you ever wonder if your smart devices are spying on you and sending your data to advertisers? If so, you are not alone. Many people have reported experiences of seeing ads related to their private discussions on social media or other platforms. Is this really happening, or is it just a coincidence?

Well, let’s start with an email we received from Nena of Orange Park, Florida, who shares her thought-provoking experience with her smartphone. 

“I am sure our phones are listening. I live in the same town as my parents. My 102-year-old grandpa is in an assisted living facility. My father and my aunt take him to the doctors and visit him frequently. My aunt planned a vacation. My grandfather was coming down with pneumonia.

I went over to my parents on a Saturday morning. We sat in the living room as my father updated me on the situation with my grandfather. He was telling me my aunt requested if he passed while she was on vacation if the funeral home could accept him to go ahead and schedule his cremation. He no longer wants to be buried. All we did was sit around and talk.

The next day my mom calls me. She logged into Facebook… and now she is being targeted by ads for cremation. Her comment to me was “that’s weird- this is the first time ever I have received ads regarding cremation. 

Microphone access to Facebook is off. Out of curiosity I checked all of our phones. In the room where we spoke we each had our phones and there was an Alexa device. 

What I think? This is not the 1st time something like this has happened. Someone is definitely listening!!”  — Thank you, Nena

We’ve heard many stories like this one of people who say their phones or other devices are listening in, and the truth is, they are.

In Nena’s case, the thing that might have influenced the ads that her mother saw was likely her daughter’s Alexa device. Alexa devices use voice data from interactions with customers to provide relevant ads on Amazon or other sites where Amazon places ads. It’s possible that one family member asked Alexa a related question.

The frustrating part about this is when our devices start sending us targeted ads after eavesdropping on those conversations they were not needed for, which is just what happened to Nena’s family with their Alexa device.

Researchers from the University of Washington, University of California-Davis, University of California-Irvine and Northeastern University concluded that Amazon and third parties collect data from your interactions with Alexa through Echo smart speakers and share it with as many as 41 advertising partners.

Here are some steps you can take to restrict how often your Alexa devices are listening in.

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Woman pressing a button on her device.

A woman sets up her Amazon Alexa device.

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Switch off Alexa’s recording feature

Amazon did not always allow customers to switch off the recording feature of the Alexa devices. However, after numerous complaints from customers with concerns that their privacy was being compromised, they made the adjustments so that users could turn off their recording devices if they wished to. 

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How to stop your Alexa device from recording you at all times

  • Open the Alexa app on your smartphone
  • Tap on the More button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen
  • Tap Settings
  • Select Alexa Privacy
  • Tap Manage Your Alexa Data
  • Select “Choose How Long To Save Recordings”
  • Select Don’t Save Recordings and select Confirm, then hit Confirm again
  • Then scroll down to “Help Improve Alexa”
  • Next to “Use of Voice Recordings” – make sure it is toggled off

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Mute Alexa

Another way to stop Alexa from listening is by muting the device to disable its microphone.

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How to disable Alexa’s microphone

  • Press down on the microphone button on your Alexa device
  • Once the light is red, then Alexa is no longer listening

Those steps are intended to help you temporarily disable Alexa’s microphone on your device. This means that Alexa will not be about to hear or respond to voice commands until you enable the microphone again.

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How to enable Alexa’s microphone

  • Press down on the microphone button on your Alexa device again
  • Once the light is blue, then Alexa is ready to listen and respond

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Photo of an Amazon Alexa device.

One option to keep Alexa from listening in is by turning on the mute button.

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Delete your voice history from Alexa

Alexa also keeps a history of voice recordings that you can delete if you don’t want the device to have a record of them.

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How to delete your voice history from Alexa

  • Open your Alexa app
  • Tap on the More button in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen
  • Tap Settings
  • Select Alexa Privacy 
  • Tap Manage Your Alexa Data 
  • Under Voice Recordings, toggle off Enable deletion by voice

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Photo of an Amazon Echo.

You can delete your voice history from Alexa.

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Kurt’s key takeaways

Everyone has a right to privacy, especially in conversations in your home. As convenient as it can be to have an Alexa device, you should always be careful and protect your private spaces if you have one. These steps should help to decrease the amount your Alexa device will be able to hear from you, and hopefully, Amazon will continue to update its software to further enhance privacy features in the future.

Do you think Amazon could be doing more to protect users’ privacy? What privacy features would you like to see built into Alexa devices? Let us know by writing us at Cyberguy.com/Contact.

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