Digital assistants — small smart devices that are able to execute simple home tasks — are practical and useful, which is why nearly half of all Americans have purchased one. With a simple voice command, a digital assistant like Google Home or Amazon’s Echo can answer a question, play a song, find a recipe or create a shopping list.
However, their rise in popularity has also put digital assistant privacy concerns about sharing data and voice recording in the spotlight. There have been documented issues of devices placing orders for toys, emailing recorded conversations without knowledge and listening in and leaking device recordings.
Stories like these have raised red flags for some digital assistant users — a recent study found 41 percent are concerned about privacy. There are steps you can take to protect your data, your privacy and users, and improve your digital assistant safety. Here’s what to do.
Turn off the mic
Voice assistants are always listening for commands. One way to stop this is to mute the device. This is typically as simple as pressing the microphone button to turn it off, then pressing it again to re-activate listening mode. For Apple’s HomePod, for example, say, “Hey, Siri, stop listening” to disengage it; then tap the center on top and say, “Hey, Siri, start listening.”
Delete old recordings
Similar to clearing the cache on your computer’s browser, it’s possible to delete the history of either an Amazon Echo or Google Home device.
- For the Echo: Open the app and select Menu > Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History > Date Range > All History. Moving forward, you can say to your device, “Alexa, delete everything I said today.”
- For the Google Home: Open the app and select Account icon > My Activity > Delete Activity By > All Time. Moving forward, you can choose “delete automatically” in the same area to periodically trash data.
Opt out of voice data collection
Amazon and Google recently changed privacy settings to allow users to opt out of allowing third parties to review voice recordings.
- For the Echo: Open the app and select Menu > Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data; toggle off next to Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services and toggle off next to your name under Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions.
- For the Google Home: Open the app and select Account icon > More settings (under Google Assistant) > Your Data in the Assistant; toggle off Voice & Audio Activity.
Implement parental controls
Afraid your child will ask the voice assistant to send him or her toys? Either disable voice purchasing or require a confirmation code for purchases. Some devices allow children to have their own profiles so parents can restrict access to payments and third-party apps.
Tech companies regularly issue software updates to address security vulnerabilities. If your voice assistant is connected to Wi-Fi, it will automatically check for and install updates. Double-check your privacy settings each month to make sure nothing shifts during an update.
Lock down your Wi-Fi
There’s little threat of hackers accessing your voice-activated assistant—yet. It is possible, however, so it’s wise to protect your Wi-Fi network. Make it private, use an encryption method like WPA2 and choose a unique and complex password.