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Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are designed to learn more about you and your personal interests as they listen. And part of doing so is to record requests and conversations you’ve had with them to learn your tone of voice, prompts, and requests.
Recently, this feature-not-a-bug has landed Amazon in a string of bizarre headlines. In March, users reported that their Echo speakers began spontaneously laughing without being prompted. People on Twitter and Reddit reported that they thought it was an actual person laughing near them, which is certainly scary if you’re home alone. Many responded to the strange laughing by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.
Last month, a family in Portland said their device recorded and sent conversations to a colleague without their knowledge. A Portland woman identified only as Danielle revealed the odd series of events in an interview with local TV station Kiro 7, claiming that an Amazon Echo device recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent the recording to an employee of the husband.
An Amazon spokesperson confirmed this incident took place, but denies that Alexa is secretly recording and keeping requests, comments, and recordings of its users. However, that statement is not entirely true since Amazon freely admits that it records voices to improve user experience.
If you’re curious what Alexa has been hearing and recording in your household, here’s a quick way to check.
First, open the Alexa app on your smart device. Tap the hamburger icon on the top left side of the screen to open the menu options. Click on the Settings menu, then find History.
Here, you’ll be able to browse all the commands you’ve ever asked of Alexa, from timers to music requests to general internet queries. You can also sort the results by date. Sometimes you may even see just a line item that says “Alexa,” for those times you may have mentioned the assistant’s name but didn’t mean to actually use it.
You may notice a few instances where the Alexa app notes a “text not available.” Click on this, and you can listen to a recording of what you or someone in your household said that prompted the Echo to listen to your current conversation.
If you are uncomfortable having any particular recording in your Alexa history, you can delete it on an individual basis or go to the Amazon’s Manage Your Content and Devices webpage to wipe it entirely. The company, of course, cautions that doing so “may degrade your Alexa experience.”
As noted above, Amazon keeps these recordings to personalize the Alexa experience to your household and uses them to create an acoustic model of your voice. While it does automatically create a voice profile for each new user it recognizes (or ones you’ve manually added), the company says it deletes acoustic models if it has not recognized any particular user for three years.
That’s right, Amazon admits that it keeps your voice recordings a minimum of three years!
For heavy Alexa users, going through all of these commands to find egregious conversations to delete might be too much work. But if you’re nervous about what the Echo has been listening to you say, it may be worth browsing to make sure nothing it has recorded is something you want transmitted elsewhere.
… or just delete all the recordings and start over.
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