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How to stop Alexa from listening to you

Amazon’s Alexa-activated smart speaker is a smash hit. Amazon introduced the Echo smart speaker at the end of 2014. To wake the Echo up you need to say “Alexa”, the name of Amazon’s virtual assistant. Once the speaker hears the wake word, the ring around the top will light up blue to indicate that Alexa is actively listening for your question and command.

Whenever you ask Alexa a question or give her a command, the Echo device records the audio and uploads it to Amazon’s cloud servers. Those servers translate the audio into text, then figure out the best way for Alexa to answer. That info gets sent back to your Echo speaker, where Alexa translates the text back into a spoken response.

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Amazon’s Alexa-activated smart speaker; Image Source: amazon.ca

Did you notice that our everyday friend Alexa is fast-forwarding us to a world where advertisers know our every weakness and desire. That’s because your Echo device is always listening, in some fashion. If it wasn’t, how would it be able to recognize the “Alexa” wake word? 

Want to make it stop? Here are the ways to take back control and make things as they should be:

1. Press the mute button

Echo speakers have seven microphones that are always listening for Alexa’s “wake” word. The devices are technically allowed to record and upload audio only when they hear that word. Well, sometimes it can be triggered by mistake. So the easiest way to stop Alexa from triggering mistakenly is to mute it.

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The mute button of Amazon Echo; Image Source: cnet.com

The mute button of Alexa either looks like a microphone, or a circle with a line through it, depending on your model. Teardowns of the Amazon Echo Dot show that when in mute mode no voltage passes through the mic circuitry. When it is on Mute mode, either the LED ring shines red, or a red line appears on the Show series screens.   

2. Changing privacy settings in the App 

In the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the three horizontal lines on the top left.
  2. Tap “Settings.”
  3. Tap “Alexa account.”
  4. Tap “Alexa privacy.”
  5. Tap “Manage how your data improves Alexa.”
  6. Toggle the button next to “Help develop new features” to the off position.
  7. Toggle the button under “Use messages to improve transcriptions” to the off position.
Image result for Manage how your data improves Alexa.

Toggle the button to off position to preserve privacy; Image Source: www.cnet.com

Turning this off might prevent new features from working properly, according to the Alexa app. But it will also prevent your recordings from being sent to Amazon office desk to be analyzed.

3. Prune your call history 

Another way can be to delete the data Amazon has on file, which is made up of all the things you ask for from your Echo. This doesn’t stop the Echo from listening to you, but it does wipe the past records and may prevent from being analyzed. To do it:

  1. Tap “Settings”
  2. Tap “Alexa account”
  3. Tap “Alexa privacy”
  4. Tap “Review Voice History”

You should see a list of your most recent Echo interactions. Tap the Date Range box and select All History, then tap the Delete All Recordings for All History link below.

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Delete all the history from Alexa app; Image Source: cnet.com

This clears up every clip Amazon has on file but, as the disclaimer that follows says, this may worsen your Echo’s performance. Every bit of data sucked up populates a user profile, which is used for things you want, and others you don’t. 

4. Don’t give Alexa your contact list

When you first set up an Alexa device on a smartphone, the app asks for the permission to access the contacts saved on your phone. Once you do give it permission, it uploads your contacts to its servers. Even if you revoke access in the phone’s settings, or delete the app completely, Alexa will continue to have all the phone numbers and email addresses it already saved from you address book. The only way to remove them is by calling customer service. So if you are a new Echo user, you can skip this step and deny it permission and prevent it from getting exposed.

5. Avoid saying words that sound like “Alexa”

There’s also the possibility that things that people never meant for Alexa to hear could be picked up if the device get “false positives” by thinking it heard the trigger word “Alexa”, whereas the person didn’t mean to summon it.

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Change Alexa’s wake name; Image Source: groovypost.com

According to the Rhyming Dictionary there aren’t many exact rhymes for Alexa, but you should avoid dropping adnexa, annexa, celexa, lenexa, or reflexa into casual conversations. If someone in your house is actually named Alexa or something similar, you can change the Echo’s trigger word to Echo, Amazon or Computer.

Featured Image Source: washingtonpost.com

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