In this ever-connected world where everything from our speakers to our appliances «smart» and «connected», it’s easy to be paranoid about our privacy. Are networked smart devices spying on us in our home? Should we be concerned? Short Answers like and, may be .
Connected devices such as the Amazon Echo and the Fitbit fitness tracker have even been used as witnesses in criminal cases and the police used their advanced technology to gather evidence.
The price we pay for personalization
Smart devices such as smart speakers and smart assistants are connected to the Internet and provide personalized services that make our lives easier. But these personalized services require data collection. For example, Google knows quite a lot about you, from the websites and apps you’ve visited and the apps you’ve traveled to, and what you’ve said after » OK Google » when using Google Now or Google Assistant .
To inform you about the traffic conditions in your home on the road, Google Maps , Waze or Apple Maps needs to know where you live, as well as the average driving time for other users on the same route. To recommend a movie you like, Netflix should know what you have watched in the past. Your thermostat Nest needs to know your temperature preferences as well as your schedule to save money on your heating bills. Any apps or websites that rely on ad revenue need to know what you’re interested in in order to show you ads for products you’re likely to buy.
While this data transparency is the price we pay for personalization, there is a great risk of abuse when all this personal data is stored in the cloud. Hackers and other nefarious actors can wreak havoc on our data.
The good news is that there are ways to control some of the data collected about us, especially when it comes to virtual smart home assistants like the Amazon Echo, smart TVs and game consoles, and even our own computer’s microphone and camera.
Take control of Alex
Amazon Echo, also known as Alexa listens for the word «Alexa» by default, which will activate the assistant. Once activated, the device records what you say, such as «Alexa, tell me a joke.»
If you don’t like the idea of Alexa recording your life, there are ways to get more privacy.
Find, manage and delete Alexa entries
Use the Alexa privacy settings page to access and manage your Alexa interactions, including deleting records and smart device history.
Open the Alexa privacy settings page.
Select Viewing Voice History .
Choose one of the options under » Date range» .
Check the recorded interactions you want to delete and then select » Delete Selected Records» .
If you’re worried about the recordings Google Assistant might use for your voice commands and conversations, delete these entries by following a few simple steps.
Managing the history of Alexa’s smart home device
Alexa interacts with third-party smart home devices such as smart thermostats and collects data. To remove third-party history data:
Go to the Alexa privacy settings page and select » Managing the history of Smart Home devices» .
To delete content, click the » Delete history of Smart Home devices» .
Change Alex’s name
Change Alexa’s wake-up word so you don’t accidentally wake her up. It’s also a way to avoid accidental Amazon purchases through the Amazon Echo.
AT present time Google Home not allows you to change the «hot word» to «OK Google» or «Hey Google».
In the Alexa app, select icon » Devices» .
Select your device and then select Wake Word .
Select the word Wake from the list and then press OK .
Save your changes.
Mute Amazon Echo or Google Home Home
The Amazon Echo and Google Home assistants have a microphone button that can be toggled on and off for a bit more privacy.
Instruct Google Home to stop listening with this voice command: «OK Google, mute your microphone.» Google Home should confirm that the microphone is muted and the lights should turn off. Once you instruct Google Home to mute the microphone, it will not obey the verbal command to unmute it (which it should.) Turn Google Home back on using the button on the device itself.
With Alexa, you must use the physical button to turn it off. Like Google Home, you should see lights indicating when your Amazon Echo is «awake» and listening.
Can muted microphones still hear you? While unlikely, unplug the power cord if you’re still worried.
Smart TVs and game consoles
Smart TVs and game consoles also accept and respond to voice commands.
The Xbox in particular is a sophisticated device that has cameras for gesture control and facial recognition in addition to microphones. If you’re worried about its spying potential, turn off your Xbox when not in use. If you’re still worried, put your device in a power strip and after turning off your Xbox, use the power button to turn off power to the power strip.
Some smart TVs or television devices (such as Amazon Fire TV ) have microphones on the TV or remote control that allow you to use voice commands. But the more common spying problem associated with smart TVs is your metadata. Internet-connected TVs can track your viewing habits and use them to sell ads.
If you don’t want your TV to be so smart, WIRED has instruction set on how to disable these features on most brands of smart TVs.