Is Your Tech Listening to You? Protect Your Privacy With These Tips

Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

If you have a Google Home or an Amazon Echo, then you know how convenient it can be to use on a regular basis. Ask it any question you want, like, "what's the weather going to be like today?" or "what time is it in Tokyo?" and you'll have a correct answer in seconds. It's convenient, fast, and easy. But after enough time-or maybe in no time at all-it also makes many owners wonder about their privacy.

According to a study conducted by NPR and Edison Research in 2019, 7 percent of Americans who are at least 12 years old own a so-called "smart speaker." And while 65 percent of them say that they wouldn't return to their pre-speaker routines, there are others who are openly suspicious about the technology's presence in our everyday lives.

For example, New York Times writer Danny Hakim is unsure about buying a Google Home Mini for his kid after another writer found that this same device was listening to him all day, every day. That problem was fixed, but it still raises a question that isn't easy for a smart speaker to answer: Is smart technology listening to us more often than we think?

"I would say most people, whether it's the device or the app, they give their trust very easily to the device without thinking about sort of the lopsided trade-offs that they're signing up for," Rachel Botsman, author of Who Can You Trust?, told Harvard Business Review in an interview.

Google and Amazon have both acknowledged that they keep audio recordings on these devices for better service in the future, but they say that they only keep intentional interactions and info gained from other access (say, if you linked your calendar to Google Home). As a smart speaker owner, if this still makes you uncomfortable-but you don't want to stop using your digital personal assistant or turn off the microphone-follow these instructions to delete it all, courtesy of Business Insider.

Google Home

Click on your Google Home app and go to "My Activity." You can also find the "My Activity" link by going to the main menu, and then "More Settings." This will bring up a list of all your questions. Press "Play" to hear them, if you like. Next press the three dots to see "More Details" or delete the items from the history. You can also delete specific questions, or search for them by date. If you want to turn off the recording option completely, go to "Activity Controls" to do so-but know that this limits the device's functionality.

Amazon Echo

Open the Alexa app, and click "Remove Card" when you see the cards representing the questions you have asked. To remove the card completely, though, go to the main menu. Click on "Settings," and then "History." Select an entry, and then click "Delete Voice Recordings." To delete every recording, go here, and then click on "Manage Voice Recordings." Press delete.