Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.
Ever get the feeling your technology is spying on you? For one Oregon couple, this dystopian nightmare recently came true when their Amazon Echo device recorded their private conversation and sent it to a random contact.
The couple was having a discussion near their Alexa-powered Echo. Shortly after, they received a call from a colleague all the way in Seattle, claiming he’d gotten an audio file of the conversation. The wife, a woman identified to the press as Danielle, told a local TV news crew that she felt “invaded,” and that she would never plug in her Echo device again, because she “can’t trust it.”
In an official statement, Amazon offered an explanation for this unsettling occurrence: The couple’s Echo woke up when it heard a word in their conversation that sounded like “Alexa.” The subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request, to which Alexa responded out loud, “To whom?”
Although the couple didn’t hear this response from Alexa, the device continued to listen, and interpreted their conversation as a name in their contact list. Alexa repeated the name to confirm, and the couple, who still didn’t hear their device interacting with them, said something that Alexa interpreted as the word “right,” which completed the unintentional request.
“As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely,” said Amazon.
Why Your Smart Home Device Records Your Voice
Smart home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home record clips of your voice when you give them a command. The device then transmits those recordings to the cloud, where a remote server processes your request. That server then stores the recording – unless you delete them.
According to Wired, you can easily review and delete the recordings your Amazon or Google device has stored on its servers. For Amazon, visit this link and go to My Devices. Select your device and click “Manage voice recordings” to delete them all at once. For Google, visit this link, and select “Delete activity by” from the left sidebar. Set a date range (you’ll likely want to select “all time”), then choose “Voice & Audio” from the dropdown menu of products and click the delete button.
Can I Stop Alexa From Recording Me?
Although your device’s voice assistant is always listening to you, it only records you when you say its “wake” word – “Alexa” for Amazon, “OK Google” for Android/Google Home, “Hey Siri” for iOS, etc. However, it’s not hard to imagine saying a word or phrase that your device might recognize as its wake word, which would initiate a recording session.
While it’s unlikely that your conversation would trigger the sequence of events that happened to the couple in Oregon, it’s still within the realm of possibility. Imagine if you were talking about sensitive topics like your finances or adivorce – or worse, something illegal that you or a family member were involved in. If a hacker accessed those recordings on your device, or if they were unknowingly sent to one of your contacts, you might find yourself in a world of unwanted trouble.
If you want to avoid accidental recordings in these situations, mute the microphone on your Echo or Google Home through its external mute button. You won’t be able to “wake up” the device and give it voice commands in this mode, but you can always turn the mic back on when you’re ready to use it. It’s worth it to ensure your technology isn’t recording things that you don’t want repeated.