Technology News, Tips and Tricks

Is Alexa Always Listening?

Amazon’s Alexa is one of the most popular virtual assistant products available. It is an exceptional service that has won over the public.

Through devices such as the Amazon Echo, you can experience talking to Alexa directly. Alexa can listen to you and respond to your conversation or even adhere to your requests.

But can Alexa hear you when you are not communicating with her?

Is Alexa always listening?


The Guide to Talking to Alexa

Before you invest in a device and begin a relationship with Alexa, it is essential to understand her fully.

In this section, we’ll review her privacy settings and other features:

1. She Can Always Hear You

Let’s get this out of the way: Alexa is always listening to you. Even if you do not address Alexa directly, she can still hear you, and she may respond to you.

If you were to say out loud, “I wonder what time it is in Iceland,” it is very likely that Alexa will tell you what time it is in Iceland.  And this may occur all day long. It is actually quite common for Alexa to speak to you or to adhere to your command even if you do not address her directly.

If you’re in the mood to listen to a particular song and mention it in front of her, Alexa may hear you and start playing it.

2. You Are Not Anonymous

You also need to realize that once you start using Alexa, your anonymity will be compromised.

Your communication with her is sent to a department in Amazon that manages Alexa. This department transcribes the conversations you have with your device to improve the Alexa service.

Your communications are not kept anonymous. Amazon keeps a record of your customer information (including your name) and the interactions you have had with Alexa.

Other virtual assistant services may disable this type of record-keeping, but you’ll need to research how effective they are. Your lack of anonymity is actually the secret to Alexa’s outstanding and ever-improving service.

This technology is being shared with other services as well. For example, DeepScribe records and transcribes patient to doctor conversations for future medical visits.

It’s up to you which level of privacy best suits your needs.

3. Other Voices and Noises

Your Alexa device can also listen to more than your voice. If you are hosting a dinner party, the Alexa device will likely hear the sound of your guest’s voices.

Alexa can also hear noises in your home and respond to them through a feature called Alexa Guard that is available on Amazon’s Echo devices.

This means that if a door opens unexpectedly, Alexa may suspect a burglar in the house. If they hear a glass fall in the kitchen and break, you may be informed that there is some cleaning up to do.

4. Voice Recording

This continues with what we discussed in point #2. Your Alexa device will record your voice so that it can recognize it and share the transcription with the Alexa department.

However, though it is always listening to you and may respond occasionally, it does not start recording your voice until you acknowledge its presence by using the “wake” word, which is usually “Alexa.”

If you are using an Amazon Echo device, the blue light will flicker on when you address Alexa directly. This way, you know that Alexa is listening to you and is ready to start recording your communications.

5. Information and Data Collection

Have you ever searched a few things on a search engine and then seen relevant ads on your social media feeds? This is because your browsing history and data is being collected. This information is collected, and a relevant advertisement is presented to you.

Alexa also does this “watching” and collection of your preferred information and personal data. Eventually, Alexa will get to know you.

Alexa may understand your preferences. If you were to ask Alexa to order grocery items from Amazon Fresh, do not be surprised if she asks you if you want to add your usual milk or favorite flavor of ice cream.

If you have multiple Alexa devices, do not be surprised if Alexa recognizes your presence. If you come home from a long night, your Alexa device may welcome you into the bedroom. Or it may encourage you to eat something when you enter the kitchen.

In the future, we’ll likely see more and more Amazon products targeted toward users based on data that is collected by their Alexa device.

Can I Have Some Privacy?

Yes! While she does come with some privacy concerns, you still have control. 

In a few US states, recording the voice of a child without parental consent is illegal. As a result, it may be possible that recognizing a child’s voice may be a feature that can be disabled in the future.

As of now, there is an option under Alexa’s privacy settings to prevent Alexa developers from hearing any voice recordings. This will make sure that your privacy is not compromised.

There is also an option to request that Alexa delete all of your past communications with her. This “resets” Alexa and does not further the sharing of your communications. Amazon allows these features but have stated that it is necessary to record your conversations to better the Alexa service.

But as we discussed, there is a trade-off. Disabling these features means that the Alexa service will not be as sophisticated or as helpful as you might want it to be.

Say Hello to Alexa

Now that you know about the risks and rewards of talking to Alexa, you can decide whether she’s right for you.

Remember to adjust Alexa’s privacy settings to fit your personal preferences before you start using her. And, keep an eye on tech news for all the exciting Alexa updates and developments.

If you enjoyed this article, check out the rest of our blog for all the latest and greatest in tech news!

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