Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are designed to learn more about you as they listen, and part of doing so is to record conversations you’ve had with them so they can learn your tone of voice, prompts, and requests. While this is supposed to help the assistants learn to give you better answers, this feature-not-a-bug has landed Amazon in a string of bizarre headlines. In 2018, users reported that their Echo speakers began spontaneously laughing, while a family in Portland said their device recorded and sent conversations to a colleague without their knowledge. For these instances, Amazon claims that the devices were likely triggered by false positive commands.
Still, it’s not uncommon for smart speakers to pick up a random part of your everyday conversations and misunderstand it as a wake word (especially if you changed the Alexa trigger to a more common word, like “Computer”). If you’re curious about what Alexa has been hearing and recording in your household, here’s a quick way to check.
First, open the Alexa app on your smart device. Tap the hamburger icon on the top left side of the screen to open the menu options. Click on the Settings menu, then tap on “Alexa Privacy.” Here, you’ll be able to browse all of the commands you’ve ever asked of Alexa, from timers to music requests to general internet queries.
You can filter the results by date — like by the day, week, month or using a custom range — using a drop-down menu. This also enables you to delete all of the recordings for that day, week, month, etc. by tapping the “Delete All Recordings for…” link below the drop-down.
There is a variety of ways to delete your recordings. Directly below the date range drop-down menu is a link that lets you filter by device so that you can delete just what was recorded by a specific device. You can also check off several of the recordings listed and just delete those selected recordings.
You can even toggle on a feature that lets you delete recordings by giving Alexa a verbal instruction. However, it comes with a warning that anybody with access to your Alexa device can give that order.
When you go through your list of recordings, sometimes you may see just a line item that says “Alexa” for those times when you may have mentioned the assistant’s name but didn’t mean to actually use it. Tapping on individual requests also lets you hear yourself in the instances when you said these prompts to Alexa and choose to delete just those instances if you wish.
You may notice a few instances where the Alexa app notes a “text not available” or “audio could not be understood.” Click on that, and you can listen to a recording of what you or someone in your household said that prompted the Echo to listen to that conversation. In 2018, we had The Verge’s weekend editor Andrew Liptak check out his Alexa history, and his Echo device recorded a snippet of his mother-in-law teasing his son, saying, “Alexa is going to take over your house.” In the app, Alexa concluded that the audio was not intended for the assistant, and the speaker did not return a response.
If you prefer to do this on a desktop, you can also manage your Alexa history by going to Amazon’s dedicated Alexa Privacy page. Here, you can view, listen, and clear your Alexa voice prompts as needed by clicking on the “Privacy Settings” tab and then on the “Review voice recordings” link in the “View, hear, and delete your voice recordings” section.
This will bring you to the “Review Voice History” page where you can perform the same actions that you could on the app. For example, to wipe out your entire Alexa history, you can set the date range for “All History” and then click on the link “Delete All Recordings for All History.”
The company, of course, cautions that doing so “may degrade your Alexa experience.” As noted above, Amazon keeps these recordings to personalize the Alexa experience to your household, and it uses them to create an acoustic model of your voice. While it does automatically create a voice profile for each new user it recognizes (or ones you’ve manually added), the company says it deletes acoustic models if it has not recognized any particular user for three years.
Finally, if you click on the link for Amazon’s Manage Your Alexa Data on the left-hand menu, you can set the app to automatically delete voice recordings after three or 18 months.
For heavy Alexa users, going through all of these commands to find egregious conversations to delete might be too much work. But if you’re nervous about what the Echo has been listening to you say, it may be worth browsing to make sure it hasn’t recorded something you don’t want transmitted elsewhere.
Update November 21st, 2019, 11:20AM ET: This article was originally published on May 28th, 2018. It has been updated to include the latest Alexa privacy settings on the Alexa app and on the web.
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