The privacy concern surrounding Alexa has been making the rounds for quite some time now. That does not seem to affect its popularity in any way though. In fact, by 2030, the current sales of Alexa-enabled devices are expected to grow three-fold.
Yet, for those of us who value privacy and data security more than the average lot, all this popularity cannot remove the concerns that Alexa poses. And Alexa recording conversations is not unheard of but the bright side is, it won’t do anything it is not asked to do.
Are you wondering what exactly that entails? Let us find out.
Can Alexa record audio?
Alexa-enabled speakers such as the Amazon Echo are capable of saving and storing voice notes but surprisingly you cannot record voice memos with it. This is kind of ironic because Alexa happens to record every word you say for analyzing purposes. It stores your voice to analyze your speaking patterns.
After you say the Alexa wake word, it will start recording whatever you say and sometimes this also includes background conversation and chatter. Although this is indeed concerning, what you need to understand is that storing and analyzing the user’s voices is an important aspect of the proper functioning of any virtual voice assistant.
Does Alexa listen to your conversations?
For as long as you have plugged in your Alexa device and connected it to the web, Alexa is always listening. This is because it remains on standby for its wake word. Now you know why Alexa is consuming data even when you are not actively using it.
While it does not actively record your conversations all the time, it is most definitely listening for its wake word. Once you say it, anything you say will be subsequently stored in the cloud as an audio file. You can retrieve these files from the cloud and listen to them from the Alexa application.
Can I use Alexa to record conversations?
Technically speaking, no you cannot use Alexa to record conversations. But context matters over here. Alexa essentially records every conversation you have with the device. This is unavoidable if you want to have a personalized voice assistant.
Alexa uses these conversations to analyze your likes and preferences and becomes a better conversationalist so to speak. These voice recordings are used to profile you according to your interests and send you targeted ads when you open the web or social media sites.
However, if we are talking about private conversations between two people that have nothing to do with Alexa, ideally it should not be recorded and neither is Alexa built to record that. That being said, there have been instances where Alexa has not only recorded a private conversation between two people but also sent it to a listed contact.
Although this incident has not happened too many times to be called a feature it is a very scary thing to happen if you think about it.
Can Alexa record when I’m not home?
If you are not at home then there is no one to say the Alexa wake word and therefore it is not possible for the Alexa-enabled devices to record anything on their own. But there have been multiple reports of Alexa waking up on its own because it thought someone called its name and once the device leaves its hibernation mode, it will record the subsequent sounds, whether they are just noises or conversations.
But you can still connect with your Alexa device even when you are not at home either through your mobile application to manage the device or by any other Alexa-enabled device by a feature known as “drop-in”. You can use this feature to listen to sounds as well as speak through your device even when you are not at home.
However, there is one feature in Alexa devices that is probably the closest to Alexa recording anything when you aren’t at home. This is called the Alexa Guard and is free as well as built-in. All you have to do is enable it from settings and leave your Alexa on when you leave home. This feature utilizes the in-built Alexa microphone to listen for activities such as a door banging, window breaking, etc.
While this is a convenient feature, leaving this on makes Alexa extra alert, and some users have complained that their devices keep getting triggered by the simplest of sounds within their house and send alerts to their phones, worrying them unnecessarily.
Other than this, the only possibility of Alexa recording things without being prompted to do so is if the device has been hacked and is being controlled remotely by someone else.
Can Alexa record when unplugged?
No, it does not, or rather it cannot. Alexa is not a device or a physical thing that can be touched. To put it simply, Alexa is a virtual assistant and if we were to point out Alexa’s location, it would be the internet. So, to access Alexa, one has to have an internet connection. This is however, the second requirement.
The first is constant access to electricity. Alexa runs on the Amazon Echo series, most commonly on Echo Dot. And this needs to be plugged into an electrical outlet at all times in order to run. This is also true for the vast majority of Amazon Echo devices such as the Echo Show, Echo Pug, Echo Studio, and Echo Flex.
So, now that we have established that the most common Alexa devices cannot run without electricity, let us go back to the initial query. Alexa needs electricity to remain on standby as well as to wake up and search the web to answer your queries. So, logic dictates that if you turn off the electric supply or unplug the Alexa devices, it will stop running.
How to find Alexa recordings?
There is an easy way to hear the recordings between Alexa and yourself and also to check if it has been recording background chatter. All you have to do is follow these simple steps :
- Launch the Alexa app and click on the hamburger menu which is located in the top left corner. This instruction is for the mobile app.
- Tap on settings.
- Scroll down and find the History option in the Alexa account section.
- This will open up a list of your interactions with Alexa or Alexa recorded audio.
This list is usually divided into two parts. One for the recordings that Alexa could understand and decipher and the other for recordings that were unintelligible to Alexa.
How to delete Alexa recordings?
With few precedents of police demanding to hear Alexa recordings, Amazon has made it conveniently easier to delete voice recordings from the cloud.
The Alexa Privacy Hub has also been updated to give you better control over privacy settings as well as a range of new commands that can ensure that you directly manage the voice recordings that Alexa stores in the cloud.
To delete Alexa recordings using your voice, you have to turn on the “Enable voice deletion by voice” settings from the settings. After you have activated this option you can use commands like “Alexa delete what I just said” or “Alexa delete what I said today”.
You can also opt to set up Alexa to automatically delete your recordings. To do that follow these steps.
- Launch the Alexa app and go to the settings option.
- Tap on “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage your Alexa data”.
- Tap on “Manage your voice recordings”
- After this, you can use the “Automatically delete recordings” toggle to make the recordings get deleted after 3 or 18 months.
Other than these, you can also delete Alexa history and delete recordings manually. For that you need to :
- Select the Settings option from the Alexa app.
- Tap on “Alexa Privacy” and then on “Review voice history”.
- After this, you can either opt to select the specific recording that you want to delete or just go ahead and delete everything.
Before you delete recordings, you should know it will affect Alexa’s personalized features. Because Alexa listens to your conversations with itself and builds a profile based on your likes and preferences. So if you delete all the recordings, their source of information on you will be gone.
How to stop Alexa from recording your conversations?
If you think getting recorded by Alexa for whatever reason is an invasion of your privacy then you choose to change the settings so that Alexa does not record you anymore. You can do this by turning off a few options such as the Follow-up mode and the Develop new features mode.
Turning off Follow-up will stop Alexa from saving your private conversations. You will do it by following these steps:
- Open the Alexa app and go to Settings.
- Tap on Device settings.
- Scroll down to find Follow-up mode and turn it off.
Amazon Alexa uses the Develop New features mode to use your voice and improve Alexa’s performance as a voice assistant. To turn off this mode you have to :
- Open the Alexa app and go to the Settings option.
- Then you will click on Alexa account option and then on Alexa Privacy.
- Select Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.
- Turn off the button next to Help Develop new features.
Additionally, as added security, you can also turn off access to contacts because some freaky Alexa devices have been reported to record and send private conversions to random contacts without the owner’s consent. Now, who would want to risk that?
Should you unplug Alexa at night to avoid getting recorded?
It depends on how much you value your privacy. As we have established for a fact that Alexa is in fact listening to your conversions.
There have also been cases where Alexa has been reported to emit kind of creepy laughing noises at night and also woken up randomly to tell users directions to the nearest cemeteries. Yes, this has actually happened and Amazon authorities had to get involved to resolve it.
These are all kinds of off-setting possibilities that can be avoided if you keep your Alexa unplugged. But then again, there are situations when you need Alexa as a surveillance tool for the night in which case you cannot really turn it off.
What you can do, however, is to make sure that you keep the Alexa device out of hearing range from where you sleep at night.
Can Alexa recordings be used in court?
Yes, they can be used in court as evidence. Even if the person is unwilling to turn over their Alexa recordings, the court can order Amazon to give it access to the recordings of concerned people if that is relevant to the proceedings of the court.
So to sum up the whole thing- Alexa is undoubtedly a convenient and indispensable part of modern and smart life but it does compromise your private data to a certain extent. Whether you will use it or not is up to you but if you do continue to employ the services of Alexa, do so with caution and care.