Is Alexa really listening to us?

  • 6th October 2020
  • Evgeniy Anisimov
  • Technology
Is Alexa really listening to us?

Simple answer is YES!

Lots of us already own an Amazon Alexa, such as an Echo or Dot speaker and Google’s version, the Nest. There have been a quite few sceptical warnings telling us to be careful because ‘Alexa is always listening to us.’

Alexa can be like having an extra helping hand around the house with the voice commands that you give it, for example, turning on the light (you do need to purchase smart devices such as Philips Hue lightbulbs to enable Alexa to do this), playing a certain piece of music, and Alexa will even answer if you ask a question such as “What is the weather like today?”

Because Alexa is powered by artificial intelligence (AI) it is constantly getting smarter and can perform thousands of different tasks. Alexa can even order a taxi or take away for you if you ask it to.

You can set up your email address so that Alexa can read your emails to you.

Because Alexa is voice-activated it does mean that the extremely small microphone in the smart devices/ speaker it is always listening. It is listening for the activation/wake up word which is normally ‘Alexa’ and for a Google Home device, it is ‘Ok Google’, and then the command of what you want Alexa to do, as this is the purpose of the device.

Although Alexa is always listening to its surroundings due to the technology in the smart speakers, it is not always recording your conversation. It will only start to record your conversation once it has heard the activation/wake up word.

You will know if Alexa has heard what you have said because the blue light will turn on.

The cloud-based voice assistant audio is then streamed to Amazon’s cloud to analyse the speech recognition and natural language pattern which is automatically transcribed as the device itself does not have the intelligence to do so before it can respond to your request.

Even though it might seem like you have an instant response to your question or command, the recording uploads to Amazon’s cloud to detect and identify the words spoken.

As Alexa is a digital voice assistant it records what you say, it is then analysed by a computer and we do not know what really happens to these Alexa recordings.

A small number of voice recordings are used manually to develop new features and to improve Amazon services to make sure Alexa is working well for everyone.

And sometimes a third party is used, and related information will be exchanged with that third party so they can respond to your request.

Bloomberg reported there have been at least 100 transcripts of conversations each day that have been recorded without being purposely activated.

You can mute your device by the microphone on/off button, when this is pressed the light will turn red letting you know the microphone has been turned off so no audio will be streamed to the cloud.

You can review or delete your voice recordings by going to Settings > Alexa Privacy in the Alexa app or on Amazon.

Alexa is a machine learning all about you and your habits, which Amazon says is to improve Alexa.

Make sure you always check the terms of service for your Amazon Alexa or Echo devices. So that you know what you are giving Amazon permission to do with your information before you activate your device.

Or just keep it unplugged.