Recently, I came across a picture of Amazon Echo device where the device had an ear attached to it. I thought it funny because it clearly showed how Alexa could be like a neighbor or even a family member who eavesdrops given a chance! So the question is, can Alexa spy on someone. The simple answer is yes, it can. But the how and why of the question is not so simple.
Yes, it is a hard fact to digest – the assistant that accompanies echo devices, namely Alexa, does record what you have said to it all this time. We know that Alexa gets alerted to the wake word “Alexa” and records what it hears afterward. But if you notice, many times, it starts recording even when it is not prompted. Though the company assures that the wake word is a must, users have discovered that it is not so.
I have often come across apps that let you spy on your spouse, kids, or employees. The reason varies from the safety of the kids, checking on the employees’ productivity, and so on. These apps have to be installed on the respective devices, and they do their work silently. It was surprising to know that even Alexa can do that for you. It has certain features that unknowingly allow you to spy on someone.
There is this feature to “Drop-In On Echo” which enables you to connect your phone and any echo device you own. When you press the button, you can actually listen to sounds near the device. This is a great help when you are away from home and wants to keep an ear out. But think about it, aren’t you eavesdropping if some family member is there at home? Yes, I am talking about privacy here. Privacy has lost all its meaning, thanks to today’s smart devices.
Further reading: What Is Alexa And What Does Alexa Do?
Additionally, this new feature called Alexa Guard enables Echo speakers to hear the sounds of breaking glass or alarms when you are away from home. You can give the command “Alexa, I am leaving” and the Guard turns to “Away mode”. Alexa will then be able to listen to the surrounding sounds even when it is doing other tasks.
Amazon never had the intention of spying when it introduced these features. The company has clarified that more innovative features improve the product. After all, it is not their fault when customers use it for the wrong purposes. In fact, many customers use Alexa to spy on their cheating spouses or teenage kids. What one does with the product is not in anyone’s hands.
We know artificial intelligence (AI) is what keeps these smart devices running. To maintain their smartness, it is important to collect data from the users’ end. With the recordings, Alexa learns a lot about the users’ preferences, and this paves the way for a more customized experience. It better understands your queries and gives more accurate responses with each passing day. It is also worth mentioning that different people have different accents, and the saved data will help a lot to learn all of it. May be you can think of it as cookies that websites use to give a more personal experience.
The Guard feature we discussed earlier listens and reports the sound inside your home. Amazon says that this is a great feature that helps keep your home safe. Though it is intended to be for a noble cause, it may not be so for the end-users. There are instances where private conversations have gone public unintentionally. And there are these employees who listen to recorded conversations to better the performance of the devices. The fact is that any data that goes out from your house may not be for good.
What Users Can Do About It
When the smart devices were introduced in the stores, these were a great attraction. Virtual assistants like Alexa have been a great help in everyday life. It has made life easier than ever before. But, what is the price we are paying? These devices have gone too deep into our personal lives and recorded much of our daily activities.
Now that too much data is already collected, what can we do to stop Alexa from recording? Experts say it’s time we filter what we let these devices hear. While it is possible to manually delete all the past recordings, Alexa will still continue its job of recording no matter what. There are a few more options that you can try in this regard.
One option is to mute the Echo’s microphone. But this will make it deaf to all your requests and it may not be able to serve its purpose altogether. Another thing you can do is turn off the Amazon “Drop In” option. Here is how you can do this.
- Open Alexa app.
- Open Devices.
- Select Echo & Alexa and select your desired device
- Select Communications
- Select Drop In and then select those permissions you want to enable or disable
See More: Can You connect a Microphone to Alexa
You can also turn on a notification sound that lets you know when Alexa listens to your conversations. This way, you will be aware of what not to say. A much safer idea will be to switch the devices off or keep the devices away from where you have important conversations.
One or more of these options should be helpful to Alexa owners to prevent any kind of spying that may be happening inside your home. A person’s Alexa conversation is his own and spying on this is like breaking into one’s privacy, whether it is your spouse or children. Whether it is in the name of improving the services or training the devices with artificial intelligence, one cannot allow the company to track the happenings in a private space like home. So, when we welcome these devices home, we must also set a limit to their accessibility.