There’s been a whole lot of talk lately about the privacy and security implications of having an always-listening speaker like Amazon’s Alexa in your home. Sure, it’s hearing everything you say — after all, that’s how it picks up on its all-important trigger phrase — but what is it doing with that information? Is it being recorded, and if so, who’s listening? It has potential to be seriously creepy stuff, but there are some reassuring answers, too.
The bad news — if you can consider it bad — is that Alexa definitely is listening to every word it can hear. If it didn’t do this, it wouldn’t be able to wake up instantly when you say “Hey Alexa,” and it would lose its biggest convenience feature and selling point. The good news is that, according to Amazon, the little electronic box in your living room or office is the only one listening to your random chatter, and it’s not recording that information or sending it anywhere.
Here’s how Alexa works: It listens to a constant stream of sound at all times, constantly sifting through the noise in search of its trigger phrase. If it doesn’t hear the word it’s looking for, all that information simply flows in one of its electronic ears and out the other. However, once it hears the almighty “Alexa,” it begins recording and sending that audio to Amazon’s servers where it is analyzed and turned into usable data for the little box to use.
For instance, if you say “Alexa, what’s the weather like?” Alexa processes your question with the help of Amazon’s servers and then the device in your home tells you it’s still too cold outside to sunbathe, or whatever.
Want to see exactly what clips Alexa has recorded of you? You can do that too! Open your Alexa app on iOS or Android and tap “Settings” and then “History” to see a full list of all of the times you’ve prompted Alexa, and even hear a playback of your own voice so you’ll know exactly what you said. You can also delete any and all voice recordings so that they’re no longer stored anywhere (well, that you/I know of…).
Bottomline: Should you freak out?
If you put tape over your laptop camera, search in “private” mode, or refuse to use Facebook because it’s sending specific ads to you, a web-connected microphone might put you way past your paranoia comfort-zone. But really, Google, Amazon, Facebook and many others already log your normal web activity, and they’ve done it for years. which they’ve done for years. As one writer put it, “Echo simply continues the trend of saving a crumb trail of queries, except with snippets of your voice.”
A lot of times this debate comes down to what you prefer, convenience, or privacy. If you want your gadgets more tailored to your likes and dislikes, you might have to move past any paranoia about your privacy – even if it’s for good reason.
One thing we can all know for sure though, we will talk about this a whole more over the coming months and years. Let us know what you think – in the comments section below!