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Smart Speakers and Privacy: How To Use Them Effectively

Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant – Your Smart Speakers, Your Privacy

Every year, people can expect something new: clothes, gadgets, or any items that someone may find useful.

Smart speakers are considered “in” nowadays, and it has a few models that people can choose from, allowing us to do a multitude of tasks from accessing wireless-enabled lights to placing an order for takeaways or products. It can even tell you the weather for the day, time, and date.

How Does A Smart Speaker Work?

What gets these smart speakers to work is voice recognition technology. As long as it recognizes someone’s voice, it would do what it is being asked to do.

There are a lot of voice recognition systems based on their manufacturers: Siri for Apple, Cortana for Microsoft, and Alexa for Amazon, to name a few.

Each smart speaker system may contrast with one another, but almost all have the same concept for them to work: making use of a wake word.

For example, Alexa is the voice recognition system for Amazon. When it hears the word Alexa, it turns itself on to receive commands from its owner. However, if the need arises, we can change the wake word.

Once the smart speakers hear the wake word, it turns on, records what we say, and sends it to the Amazon Alexa Voice Services (AVS) in the cloud. Once the speech is deciphered, it sends a response to the smart speaker.

As it uses many algorithms, it can “learn” the word choices that people usually use and their speech patterns.

Privacy and Data Security

Smart speakers don’t cost that much, and are very user-friendly. Although the thing that keeps them cost-friendly, the artificial intelligence (AI) processor of any vocal requests by the cloud servers that are manufacturer owned raises many privacy questions.

At Northeastern University in Boston, researchers show that sometimes smart speakers record by mistake when they did not “hear” the wake word correctly, but they almost stop within seconds once the mistake is realized.

That may seem alright to people, but some manufacturers allow their employees or third-party contractors to listen to recordings to improve the smart speaker’s voice-recognition programs.

There are claims that if people knew, they would’ve used smart speakers differently. But fret not; here are a few settings that can help things stay private with the smart speaker.

Top Voice Recognition Systems and Their Privacy Settings

Smart Speaker Alexa

Alexa Voice Recognition System

Access the Alexa app on your phone and press the menu button at the top left of the screen.

Go to Settings, then select Alexa Privacy, then go to Manage How your Data Improves Alexa. Toggle off the following:

  • Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features
  • Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions

If you see the warning message that says voice recognition and additional features might not work if you turn the setting off, you can ignore that.

To Mute:

  1. Press the microphone On/Off button at the top of the smart speaker.
  2. Just press the button again if you need to use it.
  3. If you have a different smart speaker that uses Alexa, check the manufacturer’s instruction pamphlet to mute your device.

To review/delete recordings: Go to Settings on the app, then select Alexa Privacy, then finally choose Review Voice History.

If you delete all the recordings, it might hinder the voice recognition’s ability to know your voice, and it will only affect the recordings you’re done with.

Before you can use the words “Alexa delete what I just said,” or “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” you need to activate them by accessing Settings, Alexa Privacy, then go to Review Voice History, then toggle on Deletion by Voice.

You can also delete recordings automatically: Go to Settings, Manage Your Alexa Data, choose Smart Home Device History, and last, you can select How Long to Save Device History.

It has three options: 18 months, 3 months, or Until I delete it.

Smart Speaker Siri

Siri Voice Recognition System

To Mute: You can simply voice out to make it stop listening. The microphone stays on to think to calibrate the speaker’s response, but it won’t activate or respond to commands until you turn the microphone on.

On the details page of the Apple Home app, you can toggle off the Listen for “Hey Siri” option.

To review/delete recordings: On the Settings option in the Apple Home app, choose Siri, then Search history. To delete the history, the Settings tab will be where you can also see the option for Delete Siri History.

Smart Speaker Google

Google Assistant Voice Recognition System

On the app, go to the Account tab at the top right. Select Assistant Settings, then choose Your Data in the Assistant, then choose Audio recordings.

You can toggle on or off the Pause option so you can opt-out of the option where people can listen to your recordings to train its AI.

To Mute: Google Home has a mute button, the Hub Max and Hub Mini have a toggle switch on their side. Check your manufacturer’s instructions if you use a third-party device.

Access the settings on the Google Home app if you want your smart speakers less sensitive to lessen mistaken activation.

To review/delete recordings: Go to the Account tab on the top right of the app and press on My Activity to see or delete conversations recorded by the smart speaker.

The quickest way to do this is by pressing on the three-dot icon and then choose to Delete Activity by… then go to Select All time then finally Delete to remove the entire history.

You can do this automatically by going to the My Activity page and press on Auto Delete, then to save your choices, select Next, then Confirm and wait for the Preferences saved message.

Editor’s Note on Verizon FSP Class Action:

This article is created to keep you informed about Smart Speakers and their Privacy related issues.

If you have any questions or queries regarding this piece of news and its updates, please do send us a message by clicking the ‘Contact Us’ button below! We’d love to hear back from you. 

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You might also be interested in knowing how the Alexa from Amazon is reaching your car and kitchen!

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