Privacy Settings Every Smart Home Assistant User Should Consider

Smart home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa and its Echo and Dot smart speakers, Apple’s Siri and its HomeKit, and Google Home Assistant and its Nest product line have become extremely popular in recent years. Also known as voice-controlled smart devices or digital assistants, it’s getting harder and harder to find a home that doesn’t have at least one smart home assistant device.

As smart home technology continues to improve and better integrate into the home, more families find them indispensable. But some consumers are less-than-enthusiastic about the seemingly ever-present smart speaker just waiting to be woken by its trigger word—and they’re rightly concerned about their privacy. Fortunately, there are privacy settings you can implement and adjust for the most prominent smart home assistants and devices on the market today.

Below we discuss smart home assistant technology and common privacy concerns about them. We then explain what steps you can take to improve your privacy while still taking advantage of this outstanding technology and all that S&T’s fast and reliable high-speed internet offers.

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

A smart home assistant is simply a voice-activated smart speaker that’s connected to the internet to help make your home or office life more efficient and pleasant. Smart home assistants can stream music, set alarms and timers, give you the weather forecast, play your audiobooks and podcasts, tell you when packages are out for delivery, tell you a joke, and perform a host of other useful (and fun) activities.

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 your commands before responding in turn. Yes, that means that your smart home assistant is technically sitting idly, waiting to be woken by its trigger word before going into action.

Common Privacy Concerns About Smart Home Assistants 

Every time a smart home assistant is activated by your voice, Amazon, Apple, and Google collect information—your questions or requests, smart home device location, usage data, and preferences for streaming music, among other things—and gather them in their respective servers. And 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.

Thankfully, Amazon, Apple, and Google are aware of these privacy concerns. They’ve addressed these worries for years and developed solutions to improve their products.

However, some of these solutions require action on your part. Next, we review each of the big three smart home assistants and some of the privacy settings you may want to consider implementing.

Amazon’s Alexa (Echo, Dot, and related products) 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”—it turns out that other words you may utter can sound an awful lot like that word—and then trigger a recording even when you didn’t ask for it!

Amazon lets you delete any recording by taking the following steps:

Under “Settings,” go to “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage Your Alexa Data.” Once there, select “Choose How Long to Save Voice Recordings” and then choose “Don’t Save Recordings.” That will prevent your voice commands from remaining on Amazon’s servers and give you greater privacy.

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

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. And yes, that means a real-life person, not a robot! If this sounds too creepy for you (and trust us, we get it), you can opt out of this quality control feature.

Once in Alexa’s “Settings,” scroll to “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage Your Alexa Data.” Look for the option to “Help Improve Alexa,” click that once and wait for a confirmation that lets you toggle it off. With that, you’ll be successfully out of Amazon’s voice quality monitoring and improvement program.

Disable “Sidewalk”

Another unique feature of Amazon’s Alexa smart home assistant technology is its mesh network called “Sidewalk,” which lets a sliver of your home’s internet share (and essentially, combine) with your neighbors’ internet to provide Wi-Fi coverage of your home’s immediate surroundings (i.e., out to your sidewalk). Understandably, many consumers do not like this feature and want it turned off (though there are advantages to it, too).

To do so, simply open your Alexa app and head to “Settings” and then “Account Settings.” Once there, you’ll notice that “Amazon Sidewalk is already toggled to “Enabled”—simply toggle it to “Disabled,” and you’re all set.

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.

Apple lets you erase that entire history. Head to “Settings” in the Siri app and choose “Siri & Dictation History.” Once there, select “Delete Siri & Dictation History,” and it’s gone for good.

Disable Listening History from Apple Music and Podcasts

You can prevent Apple from learning your preferences for music and podcast topics by going to your Home App’s “Home Settings,” selecting a user or device, then clicking “Update Listening History,” and just toggling it off. In turn, You can disable the listening history for every other Apple Home device in your home.

Turn Off Apple’s Wake Word and Siri Voice Control 

Apple lets you turn off its famous wake word, “Hey Siri,” entirely. To do this, first, navigate to “Settings” and then click on “Siri & Search,” where you will see an option to disable “Listen for ‘Hey Siri.'” That will prevent voice activation and control for Siri, but you can still use Siri’s many functions manually (i.e., through the Home key or Side Button of your iPhone).

Google Home Assistant (Nest, etc.) Settings You Should Know About

Turn Off Google Assistant’s Voice Control

Like Siri above, if you want to opt out of Google Assistant’s voice control entirely, you can quickly turn it off by heading to the Google app and navigating to the “More” menu. Once there, pick “Assistant Settings” and then click “General,” where you can then toggle Google Assistant to “off.” If you so choose, the same steps can be taken to turn it back on again.

Enable Confirmation Notification Setting on Google Assistant

Rather than turning off Google Assistant’s voice control completely, other consumers may just want to implement additional precautions instead. 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 sound when it stops.

You’ll need to adjust this setting for each device you use. In your Google Home app, click the device you want confirmation notification tones for and go to “Settings,” and then click on “Accessibility.” Then choose “Play Start Sound” (which will chime on the initiation of its recording) and then select “Play End Sound” (which will chime when the recording stops). In this way, you’ll always know when you’re being recorded.

Delete Google Home Assistant History

Another way to protect your privacy is to simply delete your Google Home Assistant’s history—all of your requests, questions, etc. To do so, head to your Google Home app, click on your icon, and select “My Activity.” You’ll see a list of recordings and an option to “Delete”—then, decide the date range to delete in the dropdown box and click them.

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, and 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. And to learn more about smart home technology and how S&T SmartWifi can help keep you and your family better connected, check out our social pages!


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