5 On Your Side

Alexa, stop listening to my private conversations

Posted November 14, 2019 7:16 a.m. EST
Updated November 14, 2019 7:21 a.m. EST

— You probably already know that smart speakers are listening to our conversations -- but did you know some speakers make those conversations available to company staff?

Many people have at least one smart speaker, but some homes have multiple. With them comes a concern about privacy.

Amazon, Apple and Google have all said they take steps to protect user privacy, but all three also confirmed to Consumer Reports they have teams listening to recordings of people using their voice commands and interfaces.

Bree Fowler, a technology editor with Consumer Reports, said this is common.

“Companies like Amazon and Google have a ton of consumer data, and they’re using that data to make their products better," Fowler said. "They're constantly working to improve their AI by having people listen to the recordings and also through machine learning and technology.”

The companies say they use the recordings to improve how their smart speakers work. If that concerns you, there are some ways to protect what's heard.

“If you turn off those speakers when you’re not using them you don’t have to worry as much," Fowler said. "But you can also go through and just spot check your recordings -- if you hear something you don’t want them to hear, you can delete it.”

Earlier this year, Amazon announced it will introduce new controls to make it easier for Alexa users to delete records of their conversations with the digital assistant. Among the improvements, the company says, will be a new online Privacy Hub.

Experts say to keep in mind, though, that altering privacy settings can compromise some of the functionality of the device.

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