We all love our voice-activated helpers… on our phones or in our homes… but did you know that they record everything you say? Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant devices all have ways for you to opt out of recording and human transcription… but you have to actually opt out on your own. Do it!
I am sure that by now you have read at least one article full of revelations and apologies from literally all of the major smart assistant makers on how they handle the audio snippets that their devices record. Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, and Microsoft Cortana were all using third-party contractors to transcribe all of the recorded audio from the devices. However, the backlash over the lack of transparency kick started quite a lot of new customer controls.
If you haven’t done so before, now is the time to take stock of how you have things set up on whatever platform you have chosen to use. Each service has its own mix of options and controls. So, here is how to stop Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana from recording and keeping your voice data… and once you are done, tell a friend or two to do the same.
To opt-out on Siri : Settings > Privacy > Analytics & Improvements > Improve Siri & Dictation and toggle the switch off.
If you previously has this enabled, you will need to delete all the audio Apple has collected from you. To do that, go to Settings > Siri & Search > Siri & Dictation History > Delete Siri & Dictation History to wipe everything clean.
Amazon was the first smart assistant company to centralize and expand its user controls for voice recording retention, but it mainly due to massive public backlash.
You can review the voice recordings Amazon has stored for your account by going to Settings > Alexa Privacy in the Alexa app or through Amazon’s website. There you can delete entries one by one, by date range, by device, or everything. You can also delete recordings by device on the Manage Your Content and Devices page. You can delete voice recordings directly through the smart assistant device by saying things such as “Alexa, delete what I just said,” or “Alexa, delete everything I said today”… but you will need to turn on that feature. To turn that on in the Alexa app or Amazon’s website go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History.
To opt out of sending your Alexa recordings to Amazon, go to your Alexa Account in the Alexa app then Alexa Privacy > Manage how your data improves Alexa and turn off Help Develop New Features and Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions.
Google offers a number of ways to stop audio retention or to delete your recordings. This page lays out the different ways you can choose from to delete or opt out in a desktop browser, on Android, or on iOS. To delete recording on desktop, open your Google account and choose Data & personalization in the left navigation panel. There, under Activity controls, choose Web & App Activity and then Manage Activity. Here you can scroll through the list of entries—those with an audio icon next to them include a recording and you can delete individual items one at a time. Or on this same page click the More menu in the upper right, choose Delete activity by and under Delete by date select All time. Then at the bottom choose Delete.
To opt out of letting Google collect recordings in the first place open your Google account and choose Data & personalization in the left navigation panel. There, under Activity controls, choose Web & App Activity and then make sure the box next to Include voice and audio recordings is unchecked.
To manage or delete your audio recordings of interactions with Cortana, make sure you’re logged into your Microsoft account and then go to Microsoft’s Privacy Dashboard.
Regardless of which platform you use keep in mind that these expanded controls, while positive and necessary, don’t change the fundamental concept of smart assistants. These services run on devices that contain a microphone, and can be woken up to “hear” things you’re saying and process them on a random faraway server. As with any internet-enabled technology—but particularly one that involves a potentially live mic—there are always going to be privacy considerations no matter how much control you have.
If these devices are a helpful and delightful force in your life, that’s fine! Just take steps to protect your privacy.