As the world gets hooked on smartphones and smart technology, there is increasing concern over how much of our private information is being shared. On top of that, with the recent introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, people are becoming increasingly concerned over how they can maintain their privacy in a world that encourages sharing.
Along with this, after the recent news that a woman in Portland had one of her private conversations recorded via her Amazon Alexa device and then sent to someone within her personal contacts without direct permission, there is now concern over how to prevent this from happening again.
Alexa, a voice-controlled smart speaker, has been gaining popularity thanks to the many functions it can perform on an owner’s behalf. So, you want to change the temperature in your living room? Alexa can do that. Is it getting late and you want to turn on the lights in the rooms ahead of you are heading to bed? Alexa can do that too. Need to make a phone call, hands-free? Alexa can take care of that as well.
And, that’s where the trouble started for a woman in Portland, according to Phys.org. When she initiated the wake word for her Alexa, it also then heard a series of commands that caused it to record the conversation and pass it on to her Echo contacts. According to the family involved, no one remembers issuing these commands. It’s unclear exactly how this managed to happen, but owners of Alexa devices everywhere are now concerned they might accidentally do the same with their smart speaker.
So, how can you prevent your Alexa from recording information and sending it out to your contacts without your permission?
According to Phys.org, the safest way to protect your private conversations on your Amazon device is to make sure you “don’t set up the Echo speaker to make calls,” something the woman in Portland had done. The Echo speaker allows you to “make Alexa to Alexa calls via the speaker or app, and call landlines and mobile phone numbers that are in the contacts of your mobile phone.”
While most people still like to use their smart speakers for tasks such as playing music and asking about the weather or looking up recipes, more people are turning to the call and messaging functions in their Alexa device.
Bret Kinsella, the publisher of the voicebot.ai blog surveyed 1,000 people in January and discovered that more people are starting to use the call and message functions of their smart speakers. According to Kinsella, 41 percent have tried calling and messaging with their speakers, 29 percent use it monthly, and 10 percent daily.
For those who still insist on using the call and messaging function, Kinsella has one final piece of advice: “Don’t say Alexa during your call and wake up the Echo speaker.”
As for those of you who are called Alexa, or have friends or family with that name, your safest option is to disable your Echo speaker in regard to its call function and pick up the phone instead.