Is Amazon’s Alexa Spying on You?

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By Mayukh Saha / Truth Theory

Modern technology has definitely eased up one’s life. Things have started getting smoother, and we are more in tune with all the technology that is around us. But there have often been claims that modern technology is just another way for the government to maintain surveillance over the population. So, despite the apparent utility of all forms of technology that we use today, it is always mentioned that one should be cautious when dealing with technology that has the power to see, hear, or speak. In such a 1984-esque world, the Amazon Echo definitely makes us wonder if it is listening in on us. But, we can’t fault the machine itself- considering it is a smart speaker, and it has just one job- listening to us. The main question- or the main fear that crops up is- just how far has Alexa spied on us?

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Allegations of Alexa Spying On Us

For those unaware of how Alexa works, the Amazon Echo usually works by focusing on trigger words which would allow Alexa to start recording. The usual trigger word is Alexa, but the user has the ability to set other words as trigger words. One needs to understand that Alexa can only record us only after the trigger word has been said. Once the device hears the word, she would then look for a command to complete. This could imply anything- from listening to music to browsing the web. Some of us are comforted by the idea that a smart speaker is not capable of recording anything until they hear the trigger word. But others are afraid of the volume of information they collect when the trigger words are in play. So, the question of Alexa spying on us can only be truly understood by how much we are letting the machine record. 

In a recent study conducted by Northeastern University, it was discovered that the smart speakers of Amazon- along with a variety of other speaker brands- could be activated accidentally in order to respond up to 19 times per day. What’s worse is that it doesn’t need trigger words- words that sound similar to the wake word would work as well. This implies that one’s smart speaker is listening to them throughout. So, while it might be a moment before one says something that sounds like Alexa, it will start spying the moment it is triggered. It must be mentioned that even if Alexa doesn’t really save everything that is mentioned, it does record enough data to identify your voice. The parent company, Amazon has claimed that this information is used to make smart speakers better. Sure, it is true that a device gets better the more data it contains- but some individuals are more interested in maintaining security and privacy. 

Recently, a famous TikToker who frequently reviews security systems of different gadgets reviewed Alexa. She found out that Amazon had more than 3,354 short audio clips from all the times that she had conversed with any device that had Alexa. In her TikTok video, she showcased a huge folder that had every single audio clip. After that, she also played a recording where she was asking Alexa to switch the lights on. What was worse was that her entire contact information was synchronized with the information from Alexa, which also had her location. Goes without saying, it could prove dangerous in the wrong hands. 

What To Do To Prevent Alexa From Spying On Us?

In another instance, the question of Alexa spying on the public was raised by Senator Coons, who sent a questionnaire to the former CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. The questionnaire was an inquiry into how the company utilized and retained data. Bezos then went on to confirm that the recordings on the device were stored- and never expired automatically. Interestingly, it wasn’t just Amazon but other third parties that also had access to one’s data and recordings. Bezos mentioned that it was unavoidable as the third-party companies needed this information to upgrade the skills on the Alexa device. 

With everything that has already been mentioned, it is quite understandable that there are some people who might want to limit the amount of time they spend using smart speakers. As it stands, even though technology has been increasing at a rapid pace- there could be individuals who are not comfortable- especially with the allegation of Alexa spying on us. Therefore, there are a few ways through which one can prevent their data from being stored by Alexa. The simplest way would be to stop using Alexa completely. Also, if you use the microphone button, then Alexa will not be listening to you until you unmute the device. The second option would be to delete all the recordings from the history. You simply have to command the smart speaker to do exactly that. 

Image credits: QuoteCatalog Flickr

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