Geoffrey A. Fowler, Washington Post:
I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests and random snippets of “Downton Abbey.” There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal. […]
What can you do to stop Alexa from recording? Amazon’s answer is straight out of the Facebook playbook: “Customers have control,” it says — but the product’s design clearly isn’t meeting our needs. You can manually delete past recordings if you know exactly where to look and remember to keep going back. You cannot stop Amazon from making these recordings, aside from muting the Echo’s microphone (defeating its main purpose) or unplugging the darned thing.
We’ve been using an Echo Dot for the past two weeks, and in reviewing my own past recordings I found one snippet that was just of my son crying. (Crying I assume over what we had given him for lunch.) Based on how many times we’ve initiated Alexa so far, our unintentional activation rate is around 2.5%. That’s… bad? I’m not sure.
Part of this is the compromise of even bringing these devices into our homes—we trade manually setting kitchen timers and looking up measurement conversions for the convenience of an always-present assistant that also happens to be a recording device connected to the Internet.
Still, I’d feel better if Amazon had less information about me and I was more aware of when Alexa was listening. Thankfully both of these things are possible. The first is accomplished by deleting your own Alexa recordings, and the second can be done by enabling the Echo’s “Start of Request” sound, found under the Settings. I’m still not sold on the Echo Dot as a permanent fixture of our counter space, and unintentional activations are definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on for the next few weeks.