Myth: Amazon’s Alexa secretly records all of my private conversations!
Reality: It only records conversations, commands and messages that you speak to the device, which must be triggered (by default, saying “Alexa, …”)
I have seen a lot of paranoia on the Internet about Alexa secretly recording private conversations. It is true1 that it records and saves conversations and commands that you are having with/issuing to the device itself, both in text and audio format. It only does this if you use the trigger word (“Alexa”) and speak.
Recording private audio (it is not private if you ask Alexa something directly) is banned in some states that require two-party consent or a court order. Recording video without consent is generally legal everywhere (in public), with exceptions such as stalking, private property (I can’t put a camera in your hotel room without your consent) or places such as restrooms where a reasonable amount of privacy is expected (the definition of which varies by state and interpretation*).
Anyone who owns an Alexa knows that she may be triggered accidentally by rude television broadcasts that mention the trigger word (“butt dialing”).
It is true that, when triggered, Amazon will listen for a command and will record a portion of audio until she realizes that it was an accidental trigger. Notes:
- In my own test, it only recorded about 2 seconds of the ambient conversation and placed it in my Alexa history.
- I was able to delete it.
- Disturbingly, Amazon acknowledges that the conversation was not intended for it, but it recorded the two seconds anyway (see image below).
- She did not warn me that she was listening. I expected her to follow-up with something like, “I don’t know that one” or “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” The only way that I knew she was listening was the brief glowing of the ring when she heard the trigger word.
- The notice on the bottom is referring to Alexa Messaging that you do among devices and acquaintances.
Click to Enlarge
There are two ways to delete your Alexa command history:
- You may delete individual messages using the Alexa app by clicking the menu icon, then Settings, then Alexa Account, then History.
- You can delete all messages via the Manage Devices web page.
Further reading: Alexa Device Frequently Asked Questions
If you are committing a crime or doing something immoral, it is probably best to unplug Alexa (unless you are trying to establish the “I was home alone” alibi, in which case you may wish to record your** voice and use a timed device to play it while you are being felonious; never ask a friend to do it – loose end and very rude).
**In case you didn’t know, Alexa can distinguish among different people’s voices: Settings > Alexa Account > Recognized Voices