If you haven’t been ignoring the news for the last few weeks, then you’ve surely seen the headlines talking about the employees and contractors at Amazon, Google, Apple, and Microsoft listening in on your conversations with voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, and Cortana and even recording them. The news that your private conversations with AI may be listened to by humans proved disturbing to a lot of users with many looking for options on how to stop Amazon or Google from listening to what they say.
In this post, we will give you the steps on how to stop companies from listening to conversations with your digital assistants.
Are Voice Assistants Listening to Me?
The main function of most digital voice assistants is to recognize your speech commands and perform simple actions like running a web search or playing a music track. However, as it has recently been revealed, most companies have special employees whose job is to listen to snippets of your conversations with voice assistants and other services.
Those listening to your conversations will typically do it for only a few minutes and your name or any other personal information will not be revealed — and the main purpose behind this is to know how well the assistant has been able to “understand” what you’ve said. If the assistant did not get your query, the employee listening to the conversation will try to determine the cause of that, and this information will later be used to improve the said assistant’s performance.
When you’ve pressed “I agree” on the User Agreement for your AI assistant, you may have missed the fine print that said that the company reserved the right to perform these actions. With that, it’s understandable that users may feel vulnerable about having third parties listen to bits and pieces of their dialogues, especially if you take into consideration the fact that voice assistants may get activated by mistake and records random conversations.
Does Alexa Listen In On Your Conversations?
The fact is that the absolute majority of companies that provide voice-powered assistant services do use the techniques that we’ve described above.
According to a Bloomberg report as of April 10th, 2019, Amazon employs thousands of workers
whose job is to listen to Alexa audio clips. A report issued by a Belgian public broadcaster VRT stated that Google had contractors listening to audio clips from Google Assistant. A report issued by the Guardian on July 26th, 2019 provided information about Apple contractors regularly listening to Siri recordings. And a Motherboard report as of August 7th, 2019 said that Microsoft employees were listening to Cortana voice commands as well as portions of some Skype calls.
Since the news has come out, some companies, including Apple and Google, have announced that they have — for now — stopped listening to the conversations and recordings. With that, these activities may resume in the near future and if this is something you feel uneasy about, you will probably want to take steps to stop tech company employees from listening to your conversations with the voice assistant.
How to Stop Google from Storing Voice Recordings?
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So, how do you stop Google from storing your voice messages? In order to do this, you will need to manage your voice activity. Here’s how to proceed here:
- Go to the Activity Controls page for your Google account.
- Navigate to “Voice & Audio Activity”.
- Turn this option off — this will stop Google from making and saving new voice recordings of your conversations with the voice assistant.
You will have the option to re-enable this feature later should you ever want to.
You can also delete the recordings that Google has already gathered. Here’s how to proceed:
- Under Voice & Audio Activity, go to Manage Activity.
- Here, you will see all the records of your voice activity that have been stored.
- In order to delete all the audio activity from Google’s storage, click Delete Activity By, select All Time and click Delete.
How to Stop Amazon from Listening to What You Say?
There is a new feature that allows you to opt out of human review of your Alexa recordings as well. The new feature became available very recently — on August 2, 2019.
Here’s how you can make use of the option to stop Amazon from listening to your conversations with Alexa:
- Go to the Alexa app or website.
- Click Settings.
- Navigate to Alexa Privacy > Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.
- Here, disable the following option: Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features.
You will see the description of this feature as well saying “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”
Once again, if at any point in time you want to allow Amazon to record your conversation, you can go back later and reverse this option.
How to Stop Microsoft from Listening to Cortana Recordings?
If you want to stop Microsoft from reviewing your Cortana voice commands and conversations, there’s a way to do that. Here’s how:
- Go to Settings > Privacy > Speech.
- Here, disable the “Online speech recognition” option.
And that’s it — Microsoft will no longer assign employees to listen in on your conversations.
However, there is no way to stop Microsoft from listening to the bits and pieces of your Skype conversations —at least, at this time. The only thing you can do is switch to another voice or video call service and avoid Skype altogether.
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How do you feel about tech companies’ employees listening in on your conversations with your AI assistant? Share in the comments below.