In the 4 years since the Echo has been introduced, more than 25million people in the U.S. have installed an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Look in their home or office. And still, very few understand that every time you tell Alexa to do something, Amazon is recording, storing, and using your voice commands. Here’s exactly what and how Amazon is recording, storing, and using what you say, and how to delete those recordings.
We’ve previously documented privacy and operational issues with the Amazon Echo, including how friends, children, and even your TV or radio can place an Amazon order through your Echo (and how to protect against that happening), and about the privacy concerns with the Echo Look. These are things that are from the user’s side, inside the house or office.
The issue here is with the other side of the equation: how Amazon is recording what you say to your Echo, and what they are doing with those recordings. Whenever you say the ‘wake word’ (“Alexa”, “Echo”, or “Computer”, depending on how you set it up) your Echo device starts ‘listening’ and sends a recording of what it hears back to the Amazon mothership, which stores that recording on Amazon’s servers.
Now, of course, some of what Amazon is doing with your voice recordings when you invoke Alexa on your Echo is to help improve your experience with your Echo. However, some of it isn’t.
Here’s how Amazon explains it: “Alexa uses your voice recordings and other information, including from third-party services, to answer your questions, fulfill your requests, and improve your experience and our services. We associate your requests with your Amazon account to allow you to review your voice recordings, access other Amazon services (e.g. so you can ask Alexa to read your Kindle books and play audiobooks from Audible), and to provide you with a more personalized experience. For example, keeping track of the songs you have listened to helps Alexa choose what songs to play when you say, “Alexa, play music.” At times, Alexa may make recommendations to you based on your requests. For example, Alexa may recommend Alexa skills you might like based on the Alexa skills you use.”
Sounds fairly benign and walled-off from uses that are not specific to your own account, right?
However, Amazon also explains:
“Alexa is designed to get smarter every day. The more you use Alexa, the more the service adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences. For example, we use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems. The more data we use to train these systems, the better Alexa works, and training Alexa with voice recordings from a diverse range of customers helps ensure Alexa works well for everyone.”
Note: We would love to know if you already knew this – please let us know in a comment whether you were aware that Amazon was recording what you say to Alexa and then using it like this.
As of the time of this writing there is no way to stop Amazon from recording and using your Alexa voice commands, and there never has been. However, you can delete them from Amazon’s servers.
How to Delete the Alexa Voice Commands that Amazon has Recorded and Stored on Their Servers
Log into your Amazon account, and from your account area (‘Account & Lists’) select ‘Content and Devices’
From the Content and Devices area click on ‘Alexa Privacy’
Now find the box labeled ‘Review Voice History’ and click on it
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This will take you to the area where all of the recordings are stored; you can view and listen to recordings just from the previous 24 hours, all the way up to the recordings for all time.
Now, if you looked closely, you may have noticed several entries that say “text not available – audio not intended for Alexa”. In this case, the audio is available, just not the text, and this is because this audio was triggered by a radio or television saying “Alexa” (or “echo” if that’s your wake word to get your Echo to pay attention), or by someone saying one of those words in conversation, with no recognizable command following the “Alexa”. This is how your radio or television can trigger an Amazon order when it says your wake word followed by an actual command.
To delete these recordings, click on the “Delete All Recordings for All History” link (if you selected a smaller time period for reviewing your recordings, the deletion link will instead say that time period, so for example, if you selected to view recordings from ‘This Week’ the link will say “Delete All Recordings for This Week”).
This will cause this pop-up to display:
“When you speak to Alexa, we keep the voice recordings to better understand your voice and your requests. Deleting your voice recordings may degrade your experience. While your request is being processed, the Alexa App may still display the voice recordings you have chosen to delete. Are you sure you want to proceed?”
Click ‘Yes’ and all of the recordings will be deleted.
Now, we are not necessarily saying that you should delete those recordings – that is a choice that you have to make for yourself. But you should know what Amazon is recording and storing, and how they are using it, and you should know how to delete those recordings if you want to. And now you do.
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