How to Keep Google and Amazon from Listening In
If you didn’t know, Amazon Echo and Google Home devices are listening to you. In fact, smart speakers can record what you say and share those recordings with Amazon and Google employees. This can be super disturbing.
Back in April, a report found that Amazon workers are actually listening to Alexa voice commands and transcribing users’ Alexa recordings. Amazon came to back themselves by saying that they have always been honest that its digital assistant is a work in progress. As they state in Alexa’s FAQ page, Amazon uses data to train “these systems,” and the more it uses, the better Alexa works. What’s more, training Alexa with a voice recording from a wide range of customers “helps ensure Alexa works well for everyone.”
In July, a whistle blower revealed to the Guardian that Apple was also listening in on smart speaker snippets, and a Google worker leaked 1,000 recordings that exposed the company’s recording and reviewing practices. VRT NWS – the news organisation ran by a public broadcaster in the Flemish region of Belgium – said they had access to more than a thousand Google Assistant recordings which were received from a Google subcontractor.
The Google Assistant smartphone app is used on Google Home smart speakers, Android devices, and Chromebooks. According to a VRT article, one could clearly hear addresses and other sensitive information in the recordings. In a statement, VRT said it let ordinary Flemish people hear some of their own recordings and these people also confirmed that the recordings were indeed their voices.
Google Home is only meant to record only when users say the “OK Google” or “Hey Google” trigger phrases. But VRT NWS said that 153 of the 1,000 recordings it listened to “were conversations that should never have been recorded and during which the command ‘OK Google’ was clearly not given.” Recorded voices leaked to VRT included “bedroom conversations, conversations between parents and their children, but also blazing rows and professional phone calls containing lots of private information.”
How to Stop Google from Listening In
Google tracks and stores a lot of your information. That includes clips of everything you have ever said while using its voice services. Here’s how you can find those audio clips, delete them and opt out of the system so that no more clips get recorded or at least stored.
Find Your Audio Data
First of all, you have to make sure that you are logged into your Google account. Then you will want to head over to your account page. On Android, head over to your “Settings” then tap on “Google” and then tapping on “Google Account”.
The path to this page may vary on different Android devices including the PC. To save some time, you can simply use myaccount.google.com.
Once there, tap on “Data and Personalization” then head over to the “Voice & Audio Activity” page and finally tap on “Manage Activity”. This is where you can scroll down to find all the audio clips that Google recorded and stored over the years. You can tap or click on the play buttons to listen to any of the clips and delete them individually one by one.
Delete Audio Data
To delete all of them or a bunch of them from a specific time period, you should go ahead and tap on the options button in the top-right corner and then tap on “Delete Activity By”.
Here you can delete clips from a preset time frame or set your own custom time frame. For example, you can choose to delete everything after October 1st and before November 30th. To delete everything simply select “All Time”. Once you made up your mind, you’re going to tap delete then Google is going to give you a few of those messages meant to make you doubt yourself but since you’re persistent, you have to click OK on everything it throws at you.
If you go back to the “Voice & Audio Activity” page and tap on “Manage Activity”, scrolling down, it should read “No Activity”.
Pause Voice & Audio Activity
If you don’t want Google to store any more clips from now on, you need to head back to the “Voice & Audio Activity” page again. Turn the feature off by tapping on the toggle switch off. It’s going to tell you that the Setting does not affect the saving of information by other Google services. If you’ve made up your mind, the best thing you can do is tap on the pause button and you’ll be opted out.
Having in mind that this can affect some Google Assistant features, for example, it won’t let you use the “OK Google” command without agreeing to the terms of service. If you do so, it could also ask you to turn the voice and audio activity back on. It’s a trade-off but it depends on what you prioritize – privacy or convenience.
Since this is something Android users are automatically opted into, it’s more important to make people more aware of it so that they can make their own decision.