Did you get an Amazon Echo, Tap or Dot for yourself or as a gift? Maybe you’ve heard in the news that broke just after Christmas 2016 about the police wanting to subpoena Amazon for data that may be collected by this device if it was in the proximity of a crime, like a home invasion. This event, while tragic, does bring up a very important point about what companies like Amazon does with the data it receives from these new artificial assistants.
From a legal standpoint, Amazon doesn’t have to and is not going to release any information without a legitimate legal demand approved by a judge. They have made that statement very clear in this situation. Other companies may not have the legal backbone that Amazon has and may succumb to turning over your information without a legal warrant. But still, we have these devices in our homes that are always listening. Do you really understand what it means when a devices is listening? Hopefully this can help.
Is Alexa Always Recording?
Here’s some things to understand about the Amazon Echo powered by Alexa:
1. It’s listening for you to speak a command. But it’s not recording.
2. Your command, “Alexa” activates the record function. That audio file is then encrypted and sent to Amazon’s Skill Interface to be transcribed to text. It is then run through an Natural Language Understanding processor so it can determine intent it can execute the next step of the skill.
3. Amazon does store a record of the commands Alexa receives in your account. Yes, you can access them. Yes you can delete them. For Amazon Echo, visit Amazon.com/myx and click on the “Your Devices” tab, select your Alexa device, and click on “Managed Voice Recordings.” Just click on Delete to delete all of your saved audio clips.
4. The Amazon Echo and Echo Dot both have mute buttons. While the device is not recording, you can still mute these devices if you are having a sensitive conversation.
What About Other Smart Speakers?
According to Wired, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft all use the voice data they collect to inform their AI platforms and improve their understanding of natural language speaking. This helps these platforms interpret dialects and context so when you ask it a question, it gives you back the correct response.
Can I Protect Alexa?
The simple answer is yes. There are two key scenarios that you may be in when you need to protect Alexa.
- Random questions from your kids. Seriously. I was checking the Alexa app on my phone and discovered one of my kids enabled the fart sound board. They figured out how to get Alexa to fart. Now, I chuckle inside about this but we had a conversation about how I will know every question that they ask Alexa. It may have scared them a bit but I think they got the point.
- Unauthorized purchases. Possibly because of your kids. First, this only works if your an Amazon Prime customers. So when that unexpected package arrives from Amazon with a Lego Millennium Falcon inside, it might be time to set up your a purchase confirmation code. This is a four digit code that Alexa will ask you for to confirm the purchase. Don’t worry, the code won’t show up in your app history.
I have reasonable confidence in Amazon to respect my privacy. They are using the data they receive to improve the Alexa platform. And with that, there’s a good chance that our kids will look at today’s smart phones the same way we used to look at pay phones. These AI platforms are going to change the world over the next few years. I suggest you keep up because it’s going to come real fast.