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Secure Your Home Assistant to Protect Privacy

The Internet has been buzzing over handy home automation appliances. Homeowners enjoy the convenience of devices such as Google Home, Alexa, and others—allowing them to direct everything that goes on in the home. These gadgets are referred to as home assistants, smart speakers, or virtual assistants.

These devices can make life easier and more enjoyable. The speakers can be used to hear the weather, get the latest sport scores, listen to music, or control your home’s smart devices with voice commands. And, depending on which permissions you give, voice assistants may also do things like read your e-mails and access your calendar and contacts.

Security and privacy risk
People love their assistants because they make everyday tasks easier. But users need to beware how they also allow a gateway to your most personal information. They’re on duty all the time, ready to be activated by a wake word or hotword (like “Hi Siri”, “Alexa” or “OK, Google”)…which is a cue to record your command, transmit it to cloud servers for interpretation, then do the commanded task. But they might mishear you—or even turn on and start listening when you least expect it.

How to delete recordings
Google and Amazon are makers of the most popular home assistants. These voice assistants usually send recordings to the manufacturer, so you’ll want to take steps to make sure they remain private and secure by removing the recordings. Note that deleting recordings may affect some of your home assistant’s personalization features that depend on your request history.

Google Home or Google Assistant*

Google provides a dashboard that shows all of your voice requests as well as searches on Google’s other services and platforms such as search, YouTube, and apps you’ve launched on Android. It’s all presented in a neat, searchable chronological stack. You can delete all of this easily, and even turn off the recording option.

  • Go to myaccount.google.com.
  • Log in to Google if you haven’t already.
  • Choose “Data & Personalization” on the left menu bar.
  • Select “Voice & Audio Activity.”
  • Choose “Manage Activity.”
  • On the left bar, choose “Delete Activity by.”
  • Under “Delete by date” choose “All time.”
  • Make sure “all products” is selected.
  • Choose “Delete.”
  • Confirm you want to delete all of your activity.
  • Now, to stop Google from saving this data in the future, go to the “Manage Activity” page again.
  • Turn off the toggle next to “Voice & Audio Activity.”
  • That’s it. Now you’ve deleted all of your voice history from Google Assistant and have stopped it from saving your voice in future queries.

* These steps are provided by CNBC.

Amazon Alexa*

Here’s how to delete the voice recordings Amazon saves when you speak to Alexa.

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the menu icon on the top-left corner of the app.
  • Tap “Settings” at the bottom.
  • Tap “Alexa Account” at the top of the page.
  • Select “History.”

However, this process only lets you delete things one by one. If you want to delete everything at once, do this:

  • Visit Amazon’s Device page.
  • Select the menu button to the left of the Echo device you’d like to manage. (The menu button looks like three little dots stacked on top of one another.)
  • Tap “Manage Voice Recordings.”
  • Tap “Delete.”

That’s it. Now you’ve deleted everything you’ve spoken to Alexa.

* These steps are provided by CNBC.

Protect your privacy
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), here are some different ways to secure your voice assistant:

Know when it’s listening. Look for settings to mute your device so it’s no longer listening. You might also be able to activate alerts that tell you when your voice assistant is actively listening. Check your voice assistant’s settings options or the manufacturer’s website for details.

Check the privacy policy. Some voice assistant manufacturers have employees listen to audio recordings in certain circumstances—say, to make their products work better. Some have stopped doing that since the media reported on it. Review the privacy policy for your voice assistant to understand how your audio recordings are handled and who can listen to them.

Check your settings. Review your default settings. Periodically, look at your history, or even delete old recordings. You can usually do this by going to the voice assistant app or logging into your account on the manufacturer’s website. You also may be able to set it to auto-delete your recordings.

Lock down your login. Create a strong password for the app or online account that controls your voice assistant. Make sure it has a least twelve characters, a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Avoid common words, phrases, or information in your passwords. And don’t reuse existing passwords from other accounts. If one of those accounts gets hacked, a hacker could try that same password to get into your voice assistant.

Know what’s connected to your voice assistant. It might be convenient to enable shopping, or to link your e-mail account so your voice assistant can read your e-mails out loud. But do you want everyone who uses your voice assistant to be able to shop, or get your e-mails? If not:

    • Add a PIN to control whether others (like your kids or visitors) can use voice commands to buy things.
    • Check to see if you can add a passcode for access to your e-mail.
    • Check your settings options or the manufacturer’s website to find out how to make these changes on your voice assistant.

Use multi-factor authentication, when available. This makes it harder to hack into your account, even if a hacker gets your password. To use multi-factor authentication, you need both your password and an additional piece of information. The second piece could be a code sent to your phone, or a random number generated by an app or token. Check the security settings on your account to find out how to add this layer of protection.

Secure your router. Think of your router as home base for all your devices. The more secure your router, the more secure your connected devices will be. Find out the steps to take at Securing Your Wireless Network.

Resources: CNBC, KNTV, Federal Trade Commission, Vox Media, LLC