6 Ways to Improve Your Amazon Echo’s Privacy
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You’ve bought an Amazon Echo. Maybe a Dot, a Tap, or a Look… or one of the other versions that come with a working microphone, possibly a camera, and definitely Alexa. These devices can make your life easier in so many ways: listening to music and podcasts, checking the weather and latest news, and even ordering from Amazon.

But you’re getting itchy feet. There’s a device in your home with an always-on microphone. Is your Amazon Echo as private as you would like it to be?

We’ve already looked at some of the privacy concerns surrounding Amazon Echo devices 7 Ways Alexa and Amazon Echo Pose a Privacy Risk 7 Ways Alexa and Amazon Echo Pose a Privacy Risk Amazon's Echo devices are neat, but having a network-connected microphone in your bedroom is a potential privacy nightmare. Here's what we need to consider about Alexa's effect on our privacy. Read More and the regular use of Alexa. But can any of these risks be avoided? Here are six ways to improve your privacy when using an Amazon Echo.

1. Block Incoming Calls

Adding phone calls to the Echo’s abilities was a great move by Amazon, but it can all be a bit inconvenient. While it requires you to manually set up (and give permission to your contacts via the Amazon Alexa mobile app), it can all prove a bit uncomfortable.

After all, you’ve already got a smartphone. You probably have a landline too. Do you really need a third device for making and receiving calls How to Call Anyone Using an Amazon Echo How to Call Anyone Using an Amazon Echo The Amazon Echo just got another big update! Now it can make voice calls and send messages. Here's how to update your device and start calling. Read More or even text messages How to Send Text Messages With Alexa How to Send Text Messages With Alexa Amazon Echo devices can now send text messages to anyone. Here's how it works. Read More ?

Worst of all, do you want a call to interrupt whatever you’re currently doing with Alexa (perhaps listening to Amazon Music All the Ways to Play Music Using Your Amazon Echo and Alexa All the Ways to Play Music Using Your Amazon Echo and Alexa The Amazon Echo is capable of doing a lot of different things, but it excels at playing your music. Here are all the ways to listen to music using your Amazon Echo and Alexa. Read More )? Unless it’s absolutely urgent (in which case, you have a smartphone), Alexa-to-Alexa calling is pretty pointless.

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

While this only works if the caller also has an Echo, you might feel more comfortable disabling the feature. The Do Not Disturb mode is the easiest option here, which can be activated by uttering “Alexa, don’t disturb me.” When you’re ready for calls, undo the command with “Alexa, turn off Do Not Disturb.”

Alternatively, you can disable calls from within the app (Android is shown, but the steps are the same on iOS), using Settings > [Your Amazon Echo] > Do Not Disturb. This is actually a useful menu to check, as it also features the option to schedule when calls come in.

So, to avoid being woken up by call notifications on every Echo device you own in the middle of the night (perhaps when your phone is in silent mode How to Set Up Android's Priority Mode (and Get Back Silent Mode) How to Set Up Android's Priority Mode (and Get Back Silent Mode) Volume controls changed a lot in Lollipop, so we're here to help you make sense of all of it. Read More ) use the Scheduled toggle. Once enabled, set a time range where you’re happy to receive notifications.

2. Drop the “Drop-In”

June 2018 saw the introduction of “Drop In,” a new feature that extends basic calling to face-to-face calls between users with an Amazon Show. These devices don’t have to be on the same network; they can be owned by different people, in different locations.

Anyone from your contacts list with an Amazon Echo Show can call you with Drop In and see what’s going on at your end, unannounced. No Echo Show? They can still hear.

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

It’s vital that you check your Echo Drop In settings. In the app, open Settings, select your Echo device, and then scroll down to Drop In. Tap this, and choose your preferred option from On, Only My Household and Off.

If you have multiple Amazon Echo devices, the second option could prove useful for inter-home communication. Otherwise, we’d recommend switching this feature off.

As with making calls, you can allow individual contacts to use Drop In. Use the Conversations tab, tap the Contact icon, and review the list of people with an Echo linked to their phone number. This is where you’ll see whether these individuals have the ability to make a call via Drop In.

It’s best if you ensure that none of these contacts has the Contact can Drop In anytime setting set to On. Block this via the Others Who Can Drop In on my Devices list, and tap Remove against each contact.

Block Individual Callers

It’s also possible to block calls from particular people. Open the app, find the Conversations tab, and tap the Contacts icon. Tap Block Contacts, then in the list that appears, tap the contacts you wish to block.

Finally, don’t forget that you can also disable Alexa’s access to your contacts by revoking this permission on your phone.

3. Disable the Echo Show (or Look) Camera

A couple of Amazon Echo devices with built-in cameras have been released. Do you really want an Amazon Echo Show, or worse, the impersonal Echo Look, staring at you?

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

Currently, the Show’s camera is to aid person-to-person communication, while the Look is supposedly designed purely for fashion. It doesn’t take a genius, however, to imagine a time when these uses have been developed into something more intrusive. Could the camera be used to spot when you’re out of milk? Perhaps it might identify weight gain or loss.

Either of these things, or more, could be used to target more products at you. Voice recommendations from Alexa, or suggestions when you next login to Amazon… and there are the ads when you’re browsing the web.

None of this is ideal, so we suggest that when you’re not using an Echo Show or Echo Look, you disable the camera. This is simple: you’ll find the button on top of the Echo Show. Simply switch it to Off.

Or covering it like you would a webcam Why You Should Disable or Cover Your Webcam Right Now Why You Should Disable or Cover Your Webcam Right Now If you aren't careful, hackers can easily gain access to your webcam and spy on you without your knowledge. So you have two options: disable the camera or cover it up. Read More , which is a cheap and sensible thing to do if you’re concerned about privacy.

4. Disable Voice Purchases

Being able to request items from Amazon via an Echo is a great experience. It’s liberating, in a “wow, I’ve never done this before, it’s the future!” sort of way. However, it’s pretty dangerous in the wrong hands.

How long will it take for someone to pop into your house and say “Alexa, buy a new Microsoft Surface Pro”? Okay, it’s a pretty extreme example, but you get the idea. Disabling the Echo Voice Purchasing option is wise, and again this can be done via the Alexa app on your phone.

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

Go to Settings, scroll right down, then tap Voice Purchasing and toggle Purchase by voice to Off. Alternatively, if you want to retain this feature, you can set up a PIN to confirm purchases. In the Voice Purchasing screen, ensure Purchase by voice is set to On, then toggle Voice Code to On. Confirm your four-digit PIN, and you’re done. In future, when you wish to make a purchase via Alexa, you’ll be asked for the PIN.

Just make sure you’re alone; this system has a major flaw, as anyone nearby will hear your PIN!

5. Delete Voice Data

While your Amazon Echo doesn’t record every conversation How to Delete Your Amazon Echo Voice Data How to Delete Your Amazon Echo Voice Data The Amazon Echo only records and stores the wake word and the voice command that follows. You can see the complete record of the voice requests and delete them if you are overly suspicious. Read More you’re having, it does of course respond to the “wake word” which unless you’ve changed it Amazon Echo Has an Awesome New Wake Word Amazon Echo Has an Awesome New Wake Word Until now, Amazon's Echo has only had three wake words. They've just added a fourth, which is a real treat for Star Trek fans. Here's how to start using it. Read More , is “Alexa.”

But to work effectively, the Amazon Echo does record your commands. Each instruction you give that begins with “Alexa” is recorded, then stored in the cloud. Is this a privacy breach? Well, you have total control over it, and it’s even possible to delete the commands.

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

Do this by opening amazon.com/mycd, and sign into your account. Go to Your Devices, select your device, then click the ellipses. Click Manage Voice Recordings, and then Delete. You’ll need to confirm the action by clicking Delete again. Individual voice recordings can also be deleted. Open the app on your Android or iOS device, click Settings then History. Here you can find all commands and play them back. All recordings are listed chronologically, and you can delete each one by tapping Delete Voice Recordings.

Note that by deleting commands recorded by your Amazon Echo device, you are potentially reducing the accuracy of the device’s voice recognition.

6. Use the Mute Button

Perhaps the most obvious privacy option when it comes to Amazon Echo devices, it’s amazing so many people overlook it. But if you want privacy from voice recordings, and protection from voice purchases — or even if you simply want to stop someone from switching radio stations or playlists — the Mute button is your friend.

ways to improve amazon echo privacy

Its position differs by device, but once tapped, the usually blue “listening” indicator will switch to red. In this state, the Amazon Echo cannot hear, and will not act on any instruction you give it. Until you “unmute” the device with a second tap of the Mute button, it will continue with its current task. That might have been playing music; your Amazon Echo might have been otherwise dormant.

Keep Privacy Alive, Despite Amazon

The Amazon Echo devices are great. Capable of making life easier in several ways, you probably don’t want to give your Echo too much power.

For instance, an Echo can enhance your productivity How to Use Amazon Echo and Alexa to Be More Productive How to Use Amazon Echo and Alexa to Be More Productive If you have an Amazon Echo, you have Alexa, the virtual and voice-activated personal assistant that can improve your productivity. Read More , perhaps by helping with creating a shopping list or adding meetings to your calendar. An Amazon Echo can help you place a takeaway order Alexa Can Now Order Takeout From Amazon Alexa Can Now Order Takeout From Amazon You can now order a takeaway meal from Amazon Restaurants using nothing other than Alexa and your own voice. Which is perfect for those people who are too lazy to cook. Read More for delivery or pickup.

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  1. csm2
    February 20, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    What you wind up with is an emasculated, lobotomized, good for nothing much, 'smart' device. Wouldn't it be much simpler just to unplug it? Better yet, save yourself some money and not buy it.

  2. Tim Mahanes
    February 20, 2018 at 5:09 pm

    These tips may help you remain more private. However, I think that these devices and privacy are somewhat mutually exclusive.

    I think that IoT devices are great, and will provide awesome utility to millions of people. But, the business model of the companies that make them rely on gathering user data and finding ways to monetize it.

    This blog post goes into further detail: choosetoencrypt.com/tech/consumer-iot-devices-free-heres/

    I don' t necessarily agree that the devices should be free, but it's an interesting point - who is getting more value, the user or the company with the data?