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It’s Listening! Smart Homes and Privacy

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smart home

Finding a home without at least one smart home assistant is becoming harder by the day. The popularity of these voice-controlled devices like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Home Assistant have skyrocketed in recent years. Families are finding them indispensable for their array of convenient, time-saving features. But only some people are happy about the smart home revolution.

The idea of an ever-present smart speaker waiting to be woken by its trigger word raises valid privacy concerns. Fortunately, there are privacy settings you can implement and adjust for the most prominent smart home assistants and devices to better protect your privacy.

What Is a Smart Home Assistant and How Do They Work?

A smart home assistant is a voice-activated smart speaker connected to the internet to help make your home or office more efficient and pleasant. They can stream music, set alarms and timers or give you the weather forecast. They can even be paired with other smart home devices to control everything from your heat and air to your lights with a single voice command.

All the major brands are capable of voice activation, waiting in the background for a “wake word” to be uttered and then “capturing” your voice and commands before responding in turn. Yes, your smart home assistant is always listening and sitting by idly, waiting to spring into action when you give the word.

Common Privacy Concerns About Smart Home Assistants 

Every time a smart home assistant is activated by your voice, Amazon, Apple and Google collect information. They keep track of what you ask them to do, whether setting a reminder to take dinner out of the oven or setting a timer for your yoga routine. They gather this information on their respective servers to be used later.

Thankfully, Amazon, Apple and Google are aware of these devices’ privacy concerns and have been addressing them for years. They are developing solutions to improve their products and make consumers feel better about having them in their homes.

However, some of these solutions require action on your part.

Amazon’s Alexa Privacy Settings You Should Know About

Disable Voice Recording History for Alexa

While Alexa only records your voice when it hears its wake word—”Alexa”— other words can sound an awful lot like it. This triggers a recording even when you didn’t ask for it!

You can delete any recording by taking the following steps in the Alexa app:

  1. Under “Settings,” go to “Alexa Privacy.”
  2. Select “Manage Your Alexa Data.”
  3. Select “Choose How Long to Save Voice Recordings.”
  4. Select “Don’t Save Recordings.”

You can also delete your history for any given day by saying, “Alexa, delete what I said today.” Some Alexa users do this every night for a little bit more peace of mind.

Opt-out of Amazon’s “Help Improve Alexa” Feature 

To improve its voice control technology, Amazon employs experts to listen to a tiny number of voice recordings made by consumers through Alexa. Yes, a real live person could listen to your recordings, but you can opt out.

  1. Under “Settings,” go to “Alexa Privacy.”
  2. Select “Manage Your Alexa Data.”
  3. Look for the “Help Improve Alexa” option and click that once.
  4. Wait for a confirmation that lets you toggle it off.

Disable “Sidewalk”

Another unique feature of Amazon’s Alexa is its mesh network called “Sidewalk.” It lets a sliver of your home’s internet combine with your neighbors’ to provide Wi-Fi coverage of your home’s immediate surroundings (i.e., out to your sidewalk). Many consumers would prefer to avoid this feature and want it turned off.

  1. Under “Settings,” go to “Account Settings.”
  2. Toggle “Amazon Sidewalk to “Disabled.”

Apple’s HomeKit and Siri Privacy Settings You Should Consider

Delete Siri Request and Dictation History

Like Alexa, Apple uses the wake word “Hey Siri” to control its HomeKit devices. After six months, Apple automatically deletes your Siri request history, but more is needed for many privacy-conscious people.

  1. In the Siri app, head to “Settings.”
  2. Choose “Siri & Dictation History.”
  3. Select “Delete Siri & Dictation History.”

Disable Listening History from Apple Music and Podcasts

Siri learns your listening preferences and uses them to recommend music and podcast topics you may be interested in. Still, you don’t have to let it in on the action.

  1. Go to your Home App’s “Home Settings.”
  2. Select a user or device.
  3. Click “Update Listening History” and toggle it off.
  4. You can then disable the listening history for every other Apple Home device in your home.

Turn Off Apple’s Wake Word and Siri Voice Control 

Don’t want it listening at all? No worries. Apple lets you turn off its famous wake word, “Hey Siri” all together.

  1. Navigate to “Settings.”
  2. Click on “Siri & Search.”
  3. Disable “Listen for ‘Hey Siri’.”

This prevents voice activation and control for Siri, but you can still use Siri’s many functions by controlling it manually through the Home key or Side Button of your iPhone.

Google Home Assistant Settings You Should Know About

Turn Off Google Assistant’s Voice Control

Like Siri, you can opt out of Google Assistant’s voice control entirely,

  1. Open the Google app.
  2. Go to the “More” menu.
  3. Pick “Assistant Settings.”
  4. Click “General”.
  5. Toggle Google Assistant to “off.”

If you change your mind, the same steps can be taken to turn it back on.

Enable Confirmation Notification Settings on Google Assistant

Rather than completely turning off Google Assistant’s voice control, you can implement additional precautions without losing functionality. One handy way to do this is to enable a setting that adds a notification sound when Google Assistant begins listening to your voice and another when it stops.

You’ll need to adjust this setting for each device you use in your Google Home app.

  1. Click the device you want confirmation notification tones for.
  2. Go to “Settings.”
  3. Click on “Accessibility”.
  4. Choose “Play Start Sound” (which will chime on the initiation of its recording).
  5. Choose “Play End Sound” (which will chime when the recording stops).

Now you’ll always know when you’re being recorded!

Delete Google Home Assistant History

Another way to protect your privacy is to delete your Google Home Assistant’s history. This clears all of your requests, questions and other actions.

  1. Go to your Google Home app.
  2. Click on your icon and select “My Activity.”
  3. Select “Delete”.
  4. Choose the date range to delete in the dropdown box.

You can also configure your Google Home Assistant to automatically delete your recordings in the same menu. Look for the option that says “Auto-Delete” and toggle it. Then you won’t have to delete them manually again.

By implementing the above privacy settings, you can vastly improve the privacy of your smart home devices while still enjoying their convenience. OEC Fiber also keeps your home and network secure with our built-in network security. Protecting you and your family is essential. That is why we automatically block intrusions, threats, viruses and malware before they reach your devices. And thanks to our advanced fiber network, you can enjoy all the benefits of a smart home without worrying about losing your privacy.

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