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8 ways to protect your Amazon Echo privacy while working from home

If you don't want Alexa hanging on your every words, change these settings now.

© Provided by CNET   Is Alexa always listening? Chris Monroe/CNET

By Katie Conner, CNET

With states on lockdown and companies asking employees to work at home due to the novel coronavirus, there have been concerns around the internet that Alexa  may be listening to confidential conversations. This can be alarming, especially when the speaker can be activated without you knowing. For example, if it's listening for the wake word and hears a similar-sounding term, your Echo might begin listening for your command.

This isn't the first time Echo users have been concerned about privacy. Alexa users became alarmed last year after discovering that Amazon stores your audio recordings to be reviewed by Amazon employees.

Last September, the giant tech company added new commands to help users know exactly what information Alexa is collecting and made it easier to delete voice recordings. There are also some new security features to the Echo Show's camera (that's the Amazon Echo with the screen) to keep people from worrying about being watched.

If you're working from home and concerned about your work's confidential information, look to these answers as a way to keep your data protected.


Unplug or mute your Echo speaker

If you're worried that Alexa is listening to confidential work conversations you're having, whether it's dealing with a customer's account information or your company's security information, simply unplug your Amazon Echo speaker while working. However, if you use your Echo for reminders, timers or daily routines, you can leave your speaker plugged in and turn the microphone off or place it in another room away from where you are.


Can the Alexa skills listen in on me?

Last year, security researchers discovered malicious skills that exploit the Echo's Unicode character sequence -- which isn't pronounceable. This leaves your speaker listening and waiting for you to say the wake word, allowing the app to listen in on you. The researchers have noted that those malicious apps have been removed, but you should still be cautious about which apps you download.

Go through your skills settings in the Alexa app and disable any that you haven't used in a while. Read the reviews on apps you're unsure of to make sure nothing troublesome has been detected.

© Provided by CNET   You'll need to enable the delete by voice in the Alexa app before you can use the privacy feature. Screenshots by Jason Cipriani/CNET


How to manage and delete audio recordings on your Amazon Echo

You can view the audio transcripts of your Alexa commands and delete them in the Alexa app. Or, you can ask Alexa to delete your recordings, but you'll need to enable the setting first. Then you can say "Alexa, delete what I just said" or "Alexa, delete everything I said today."

You can also manage your Alexa data in the app and choose to automatically delete recordings after three or 18 months. Go to your Alexa Privacy settings and turn on Automatically delete recordings.


Do Amazon employees know what I'm saying at all times?

The Amazon Echo only starts recording when you say a command to Alexa. Once you say the wake word, like Alexa or Echo, it starts recording the audio and stores it in the Alexa app on your phone. The transcripts and voice recordings are then uploaded to Amazon's servers for processing. If you don't want your Echo listening for the wake word at all times, turn the mic off by pressing the microphone's mute button on top of the device.

Amazon says once they have the transcripts, they manually review and annotate a small fraction of one percent of Alexa requests to help improve its voice assistant. However, you can opt-out of this feature and stop Amazon employees from listening to your recordings.

Go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data > toggle off the setting that says Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services.

© Provided by CNET   Press the microphone button to turn off the mic. Ian Knighton/CNET


How can I be sure my Echo Show's camera isn't recording me?

If you've got one of the earlier Echo Show devices, like the first and second generation, they don't come equipped with the privacy shutters -- but you can disable the camera by pressing the off button. You'll know it's off when the red light comes on. The lens won't be covered, but you can always place a sticker or thick tape over the lens if it bothers you.

The Echo Show 5 or the new Echo Show 8 have built-in privacy shutters that cover the lens when you're not using them.

© Provided by CNET   The Echo Show 5 and Echo Show 8 have built-in privacy shutters. Chris Monroe/CNET


Does Amazon Echo Show use face recognition?

Unlike Google Nest Hub Max, the Amazon Echo Show doesn't use facial recognition to know that you're you -- though it's worth noting that Amazon does have an optional face-detecting service called Rekognition, which you can use to add image and video analysis to your applications.

Amazon also owns Ring, a doorbell security camera company, which considered adding facial recognition to its video doorbells in the past. That company has also taken heat lately due to its controversial partnerships with some police departments.


Can other users on my Echo account see what I'm asking Alexa?

Everything you ask Alexa is saved in the Alexa app as transcripts and voice memos. So if you share the app with others, they'll be able to see every command you've given Alexa. If you're worried about someone seeing what you've said -- for example, if you told Alexa to buy a gift -- then delete the transcripts immediately (see the first section above). 

© Provided by CNET   If you're sharing your Echo account with others, they can see everything you say to Alexa. Chris Monroe/CNET


I have Alexa connected to personal services. Is it secure?

If you use Alexa to access your bank account information or have it connected to your home security system , you're probably wondering what's stopping someone from accessing that information. Fortunately, most banking services require you to create a PIN code for extra security, so only you have access to your bank account info.

As for security systems, find one that allows you to use a personal code so that only you or other household members can turn off the alarms. If your security system doesn't have a PIN feature, keep your Echo away from doors and windows to prevent outsiders from having access -- or better yet, get a different security system.

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Tech Magazine: 8 ways to protect your Amazon Echo privacy while working from home
8 ways to protect your Amazon Echo privacy while working from home
If you don't want Alexa hanging on your every words, change these settings now.
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