How to Make Sure Your Smart Devices Aren't Actively Listening to Your Conversations
A tech expert reveals how to disable these functions in your phone, laptop, and home speakers.
We live in a digital world with everything from smart phones to voice-activated home electronics as part of our daily lives—and that means that these very devices could be getting a little personal since some can actually listen to us more than we realize. "Recordings from a diverse range of customers help devices work well for everyone," explains Peter Lopez, the founder of Brooklyn Tech Guy. "With these settings enabled, your voice recordings could be reviewed to help improve services, used in the development of new features, and to improve transcription accuracy."
While he assures that voice recordings are rarely reviewed manually, you can still turn off these functions if you value your privacy. Ahead, our tech expert shares how to do just that.
When it comes to your most-used devices, like your smart phone, tablet, or laptop, Lopez explains that you should start with disabling the tracking capabilities. To turn this off, he says to go to your settings, "privacy," then the tracking setting to turn off any apps that could be taking data. "You may be surprised to find you have some turned on already!" the tech expert says, also noting that some social media apps track users at times. To directly prevent the apps on your electronics from listening to you, he says to go to settings, then "privacy," and microphone. Do keep in mind that some apps, like Amazon Alexa, Shazam, or WhatsApp will need to "listen" to you for them to work, shares Lopez. Lastly, turn off any "watching" functions by going to settings, "privacy," and camera. "Again, you need to have some apps 'watch' for them to work well," shares Lopez, like Zoom or your doorbell.
Another tip? Keep an eye out for orange or green dots in the status bar above your cellular bars in your Apple phone. "The green indicator appears when the camera is being used by an app," explains Lopez. "The orange appears when the microphone is being used by an app." From these subtle signs, you can tell if you are being recorded in some way, he adds.
Voice-Activated Home Devices
"Smart speakers are 'always listening' with the intended purpose of serving up anything you may want to hear," Lopez explains. "For example, music, weather, news, reminders, even games or math problems." To stop them from listening, all you have to do is find the button directly on the device that turns off the microphone. This type of device also tracks how you use the smart electronic throughout your home, like the state of your "on" and "off" switches, camera information, and thermostat use. Luckily, you can erase your user history for a clean slate. For Alexa devices, visit the Alexa privacy settings page and click "manage home devices history" on your online account. From there, "delete content." Plus, you can delete any voice recordings more than three or 18 months old. Simply go to the Alexa privacy settings page online and click to manage your data, says Lopez. You can then choose to automatically delete recordings, he notes; just be sure to choose how long you want to keep your voice recordings in the pop-up box.
You can also do this with Google Home. First, go to your account and click "data and personalization" on the left navigation panel. Lopez says to continue by clicking "web and app activity" in the activity controls panel. Then either check or uncheck the box next to the "include audio recordings" setting to turn it on or off. "When the audio recordings setting is off, voice inputs from interactions with Google Search, Assistant, and Maps won't be saved to your Google Account, even if you're signed in," Lopez shares. "If you turn the audio recordings setting off, previously saved audio is not deleted. You can delete your audio recordings at any time."