How To Protect Your Privacy On Your Smart Home Devices

Smart speakers are cool, convenient and fun to use, but when it comes to privacy, they leave a lot to be desired. If you own an Amazon Echo, a Google Home or a HomePod, there are a bunch of settings and features to tweak if you're worried about protecting your personal data.

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Here's what you need to know about smart speakers and privacy, whether you just opened the box or you've been barking voice commands for weeks.

Flickr/Tatsuo Yamashita

Amazon Echo

Amazon's smart speaker offers way more features than the competition, but that means there's even more to consider if you're worried about privacy. From voice recordings to automatic purchases, there are plenty of ways your Echo can leave you exposed.

Block Incoming Voice and Video Calls

Echo makes it easy to receive calls and video chats (Amazon calls them Drop Ins) directly to the speaker. The only downside is that someone could dial-in unannounced, listen to any other conversations happening in the room, and even spy on you if your Echo has a camera (such as the Show or Spot).

To block all incoming voice calls, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, and switch on Do Not Disturb mode. You can also use the voice command "Alexa, don't disturb me," and switch it back on with "Alexa, turn off do not disturb."

If you want to switch off the Drop In feature, Amazon offers a few different options. First, open Settings in the Alexa app, select your device, and scroll down to Drop In. From there, you can select "Off" to kill the feature entirely, or select "Only My Household" if you have a bunch of Echos in the house and want to use them as a video intercom system.

Alternatively, you can block specific callers using the Alexa app. Just open the Conversations tab, select Contacts, and then tap on Block Contacts. From there, you can block anyone you want from dropping in on your Echo.

Delete Your Voice Command Data

Amazon records all the commands you give and uses that data to make Alexa even smarter, but you can delete all of it pretty easily if you want to. All you need to do is head to this website, sign into your Amazon account, and go to Devices. From there, you can delete individual voice commands, or scrub them all at once by clicking on the three dots icon, selecting Manage Voice Recordings, then Delete, and then clicking Delete again to confirm.

Turn Off the Microphone and Camera

Amazon makes it pretty easy to switch off the Echo's camera. Just hit the big microphone button when you don't want the company listening in - also useful if one of your guests keeps on telling Alexa to change the music.

If you have an Echo Show, or some other model with a built-in camera, you can also turn that off with the press of a button. If you're paranoid, you could also try covering up the lens with a piece of tape to be sure no one is spying on you.

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Google Home

Google's smart speaker lineup is a little less of a privacy minefield than Amazon's, but there's still plenty to be done if you're concerned about protecting your personal information. Here's a quick guide for any privacy-obsessed Google Home owners.

Block Incoming Calls

The Google Home's phone call capabilities are a lot less robust than Amazon's. The only way to receive calls to the company's AI speakers is by linking your own personal number to the device. So if you're worried about privacy just don't activate that feature.

If you already connected your number to your Google Home, switching it off isn't too hard. Just open the Google Home app while you're connected to the Wi-Fi. Then hit the devices icon in the top right corner and select your Home speaker. On the next screen, tap on the three dots icon in the top right corner, select Settings, and then Linked accounts. Finally, select Unlink to delete the connection.

As for video calls, Google doesn't make any Home speakers with a built-in camera - at least not yet. So there's nothing to worry about at the moment.

Delete Your Voice Command Data

Just like Amazon, Google records all the voice commands you use. To delete those recordings, open the Google Assistant app and go to Settings, then Home Control, and select your speaker. Then click on the three dots in the top right corner, tap on My Activity, and from there you can pick and choose which commands to delete. To delete everything, hit the three dots in the top right corner, select "Delete activity by", and then clear everything at once.

Turn Off the Microphone

Just like on an Echo, your Google Home speaker has a physical button to turn off the microphone. In most cases, it's hidden in the back of the device. So you may have to do a little searching to find it the first time.

Apple HomePod

For the privacy-concerned consumer, the HomePod is probably your best bet. Apple's made a name for itself by protecting customer data, and this smart speaker is no exception. Still, there are a few things to consider if you want to keep your personal information as safe as possible.

Block Incoming Calls

The only way to make or take calls with the HomePod is through your smartphone. So there's nothing to worry about here. Moving on...

Delete Your Voice Command Data

Apple goes to extra lengths to secure the recordings of your voice commands. Everything is encrypted and anonymised before the company ever looks at it, but if you're still not convinced there is a way to delete that data entirely.

According to Wired, all you have to do is switch off Ask Siri and Dictation on your iOS device. First, open the Settings app, select Siri and switch off Ask Siri. Next, go back to Settings, then General, then Keyboard, and toggle off Dictation. That should stop your HomePod from recording your commands moving forward.

Disable Personal Requests

Finally, here's one privacy concern that's HomePod-specific. Apple included a feature called Personal Requests that lets you listen to recent text messages and send a response through the smart speaker. The only problem is that the device has no way of telling the different between different people's voices, meaning anyone in the house can get access to your private messages.

To disable the feature, head into HomePod settings on your iPhone and switch off Personal Requests. Or just skip that part of the setup process in the first place.


Comments

    Was this written by an apple user by any chance?
    You talk up Apple's security and that "For the privacy-concerned consumer, the HomePod is probably your best bet"

    But, you don't mention this from the Wired article ...
    "However, in Apple's privacy information about your voice data it makes it clear that historic voice records may be kept for an undisclosed period of time. "Older voice input data that has been disassociated from you may be retained for a period of time to generally improve Ask Siri, Dictation and dictation functionality in other Apple products and services," the company explains. This can include audio, transcripts and technical data from your phone, including an approximate location."

    At least when you delete from Google and Amazon it is actually deleted.

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