It was revealed recently that Amazon has several of its workers listening to Amazon Echo also known as Alexa voice assistant recordings. This is quite disconcerting, but, this tutorial will show you various ways, which includes a serious DIY project, to boost your privacy.
Lets get straight to the point.
- The first method of silencing most voice assistant devices is through the manual, physical button. Some users do not read the manual and have no idea that manual overrides exist. On Amazon Echo, as soon as you press the microphone button, the ring seen externally turns red and the device cannot listen, at least that is our thought. Google Home has button on the side and the four dots on the top light up when deactivated, plus it verbally informs you that the microphone is on or off when you press the button, but Echo doesn’t.
Plus, reports have it that you are able to mute the Google Home and Apple HomePod with an easy voice command of “mute the microphone” or “stop listening.” I do not own an Apple HomePod, but the Google Home just replies, informing you where the button is on the unit and to press it. The Amazon Echo settings has no room for this voice, but how cool would that be?
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- As per Amazon workers listening in to your Amazon requests and interactions, a setting (most things for Alexa are managed via the application and that does not change here) can be accessed under Alexa Privacy.
- In the Alexa application, click Menu.
- The top setting you will see is “Alexa Account" then scroll down and choose “Alexa Privacy.”
- A blue banner will become visible telling Amazon appreciates your trust, blah blah blah, scroll downward to "Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa".
- Toggle next thrice, they are activated by default to the OFF position. On Android, it displays as gray when disabled and a small white button to the left. When activated, background turns blue, and dot to right. You will then see a caveat that "new features" may not function properly if you do this.
- On Echo, your family and contacts can “Drop In” and begin a conversation, like a phonecall, through two Echo devices. But, it has to be permitted first. Some experts have said that a contact, i mean a fellow Echo owner in your contact list, can simply listen in on your home convos. To be very certain, head to Communications in the Alexa application and make adjustments in the “Drop In” setting to “My Household” or Disable.
The most thorough way to deactivate your Amazon Echo or Google Home microphone - it is called Project Alias. It is a complete IY hack that can be found on Hackaday. It requires some electronics chops and patience, but lots of people have tried it. Basically, this project makes use of a small speaker that makes white noise that is stopped by a wake word that then let your Alexa or Google Home command to be audible. So if anyone was eavesdropping, all they can hear is white noise. More devices like this are expected to take over in the nearest future.
This project has yielded mixed outcomes. The creator of Project Alias wrote a detailed Instructable and offers GitHub files for whoever is prepared to give it a try. You will require a Raspberry Pi Model 3 A+, a 3D Printer, and other items.
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Going back to the news that caused this article, Popular website, Bloomberg wrote, “Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”
Be aware that some of the listening has to do with improving the product and will only take place as soon as you request Alexa to get something done. To offer all of us a reality check, the Google Home, Apple’s Siri, Android smartphone Google Assistant, Facebook, and others were granted proper permission, through their terms of service, to listen in all kinds of ways. Unplugging it totally is not simple. Undoubtedly, there are faults and errors that makes all of this even more petrifying and creepy.
Wrapping up, we actually have some degree of control over our privacy, even if different posts all over the internet keep complaining. We still hold the decision of what we allow into our houses, or in our mobile devices. Surely, we expect that the mega companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple will not make us regret any trust we have in them. In certain aspects, they have done that and we need to hold them responsible. My expectation is that more devices and application will give us more control of our data and settings. Till then though, there will forever be the Off button, use it.