Convenience Comes at a Cost, But You Can Be Proactive
Let’s face it, telling Alexa to take care of a task for you is just plain convenient (and takes the load off of you).
“Alexa, show me my front door.”
“Alexa, turn on the lights.”
These are just a few sample commands some of us may use throughout the week for the sake of convenience with our standalone devices or full home security systems. Some home security providers make it possible for you to control your lighting, security cameras, door locks, and more with Alexa.
Yet, in all of Alexa’s technical advancedness, this convenience still comes at a price that we sometimes forget.
Our safety and our privacy.
Ring confronted privacy concerns around the end of 2019 with customers reporting that their Ring cameras had been hacked into. While Ring took measures to combat this vulnerability with its cameras, we still need to keep our safety and security top of mind, and there are measures we can take proactively.
Here are 10 quick tips to help you protect your conversations and personal information while using your Amazon Echo device.
Turn off voice input. Use Alexa voice remote instead.
The Echo captures every sound and voice command in the room. For your privacy, disable the mic by pressing the Echo’s top ‘Mute’ button when the Echo isn’t in use to prevent data from being collected. You’ll still be able to use the Echo using your Alexa Voice Remote. Just press and hold the remote’s talk button, wait for the sound, then give your command.
Use PIN protection or disable voice purchases.
To prevent anyone else from using your Echo device for unauthorized voice purchases, set up a PIN. To set up your voice PIN, open your Alexa app, head to ‘Settings’, then select ‘Voice Purchasing’. Alternatively, you can disable voice purchasing altogether to ensure secure, authorized purchasing.
Turn on your device’s sound notification.
Your Echo’s default setting automatically turns sound notifications off. Switch the Echo’s sound notification on to automatically alert you if your Echo is accidentally triggered. Here’s how to do it:
- Select ‘Settings’ in the main menu of the Alexa mobile app
- Next, select your Echo by name in ‘Alexa Devices.’ You can configure multiple Echos differently if you have more than one
- Then, adjust the toggle switches when you choose ‘Sounds & Notifications.’ You may choose to play sounds at the start or end of requests
Disable your smartphone’s address book sharing feature.
Your Amazon Echo gives you the option to share your smartphone’s address book with family and friends. Sharing allows Alexa to send messages and emails using your voice commands. But, to avoid eavesdroppers or Alexa accidentally sending messages on your behalf, Amazon allows you to disable sharing your address book and delete all data by giving Amazon’s customer service team a phone call.
Keep your Echo away from windows and doors.
Placing your Echo away from windows and doors reduces the risk of outsiders hearing your Echo. It also eliminates false alarms of your Echo being triggered by outside voices. It’s also polite to be sure to use your Echo in a closed room, where it’s not a nuisance to neighbors.
Designate “Alexa-free” rooms.
Rooms like your master bedroom, kids’ rooms, and even bathrooms can be spaces where you’d avoid keeping an Alexa Echo device. In this way, you’ll prevent Alexa from obtaining information and conversations that you want to keep private.
Review and delete your interactions with Alexa.
Amazon automatically stores all of your Echo’s interactions to improve its performance and command accuracy. For extra privacy, regularly review and delete your communication with Alexa. Here’s how to do it:
- Delete specific voice recordings. Go to your ‘Settings’, then select ’History’ in the Alexa App. Drill down for a specific entry, then tap the ‘Delete’ button.
- Delete all of your voice recordings. Visit Amazon’s content and device management portal. Then click the ‘Your Devices’ tab. Next, select the corresponding button under ‘Actions’ for your Echo or other Alexa-enabled devices. Next, select ‘Manage voice recordings’ and click ‘Delete’. You may also contact Amazon’s customer service to delete all voice recordings.
Opt out of Alexa recordings.
If you don’t want Amazon to keep transcripts of your recordings at all, you can opt out of this feature. Here’s how:
- Opt out of Alexa recordings through the Alexa app: In the Alexa app, go to ‘Settings’. Tap on ‘Alexa Privacy’ > ‘Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa’ > And then turn off the option to improve Amazon’s services.
Turn your Echo’s camera off.
The Echo Show 8, released in November 2019, comes with a camera for easy video calling. If you’re worried about your camera being on when it’s not in use, simply turn it off and only turn it on when needed. Simply press the ‘Off’ button at the top of the Echo show to turn off both the camera and microphone. A red LED light will show that both are disabled for your peace of mind.
Read third-party terms and conditions.
How to protect your Amazon Echo’s privacy
There’s an alarming need for privacy and safety when using any network-connected or smart devices. Fortunately, there are some really simple steps you can take to protect your Amazon Echo from cybercriminals. Use these security tips to keep your Echo and other internet-connected devices safe.
Change your default Wi-Fi password
Though your Echo doesn’t need a login password, the Wi-Fi it operates on does. Be sure to change your WiFi password. Make sure it’s difficult to guess or decrypt. Privacy and information security experts at Carnegie Melon University recommend the following:
- Make your passwords eight characters long or more — preferably more.
- Avoid using single dictionary words (a mix of six or more words is good).
- Blend in upper and lower case letters into your password.
- Use numbers and symbols (like !, #, %, ^, $, +, etc)
Always use a secure Internet connection
Using a public or shared Wi-Fi network with your Echo is not recommended and could you expose you to security threats.
You may also use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your Internet access. Encrypted internet access secures the information exchanged between your Echo and Amazon’s cloud storage. Most credible VPN services support routers. So whether connecting your Amazon Echo to the Internet via mobile WiFi or your home router, both your Internet connection and Echo remain safe and secure.
Always keep your Echo updated. Whenever your Echo’s software or Alexa app calls for an update, or a third-party app requires updating, do it. Most updates include upgraded security and privacy upgrades that you may never see, but you know they’re there. Devices that are not regularly updated are more vulnerable to malware, ransomware, and other security threats.
Review Alexa skills and keep installs to a minimum.
Cut down on the bells and whistles. Assess every Alexa Skill thoroughly before installing it. Third-party software may increase your exposure to attack. If you’ve already packed your device full with Alexa skills, edit your list with no remorses — keep only Skills that multiply your productivity. Then, remember to regularly delete Skills you don’t use on a regular basis.
A Recap of Amazon Echo Privacy and Security Tips
Give yourself the privacy and security you deserve while you enjoy your Amazon Echo. Here’s a quick recap of the safety precautions to always keep in mind:
- Turn off voice input. Use Alexa voice remote instead.
- Use PIN protection or disable voice purchases.
- Turn on your device’s sound notification.
- Disable your smartphone’s address book sharing feature.
- Keep your Echo away from windows and doors.
- Designate “Alexa-free” rooms.
- Review and delete your interactions with Alexa.
- Opt out of Alexa recordings.
- Turn your Echo’s camera off.
- Read third-party terms and conditions.
Your Amazon Echo is here to ease the day-to-day thousands of ways. However, you still need to put in a little effort to ensure you’re safe and your information is secure. Use the privacy and security tips outlined above to help your hardworking assistant keep your personal information safe.