Hi, folks. I want to tell you about a Christmas present I received this holiday (and perhaps you did too) that I love, but if I’m being totally honest, it absolutely terrifies me. I’m talking about the Amazon Echo Spot.
What’s so terrifying about this handy little device you ask? Smart speakers and digital assistants like Alexa, Google and Siri may be eavesdropping on us all:
Amazon Echo Spot
This adorable, digital device is a super user-friendly, very cool bit of technology that’s right up my alley and well, I stare at it with much trepidation knowing it could jeopardize my family’s privacy and online safety. At the same time, I can’t help but want to use it because it is just that fun and handy.
Here are only a few of the things you can do with the Amazon Echo Spot, totally hands-free:
Watch video flash briefings
Play music and see lyrics
Get weather forecasts
Manage to-do and shopping lists
Control smart home devices
Browse and listen to Audible audiobooks, and more.
Amazon Echo Dot privacy and online safety tips
Committed to enjoying my new Christmas present, I did a quick online search before setting it up to find out how to use the Amazon Echo Spot safely. Sure enough, Safety.com gave me a quick and easy checklist to ease my fears (a bit) in their article, Amazon Echo: Tips to Protect Your Privacy and Online Safety. Below a rundown of their suggestions on how to prevent unauthorized use and protect your family’s privacy. If you, too, have a digital assistant or smart speaker in your home, I highly suggest you check out their article in its entirety for more on the Amazon Echo and cybersecurity and how to protect it from cyber threats.
Here are the six recommendations from Safety.com, along with brief instructions that have been modified slightly from the article, as it seems iPhone app settings have changed a bit since they wrote it. I should also note the seventh recommendation about covering your camera is not included in the article but, as a Trepid Tech Mom, I suggest families take this step. Alright, let’s begin!
1. TURN OFF VOICE INPUT.
Click the button on the actual device that features a microphone until it turns red. This means it’s muted. Then, instead of the voice commands, use the Alexa Voice Remote for Amazon Echo, which connects to Echo products via Bluetooth. It’s a separate purchase and about $30 on Amazon.
2. CHANGE YOUR ECHO’S WAKE WORD.
Open the Alexa app on your smartphone. Go to “Settings” > “Device Settings” > Click your device name, ex. “[your name]’s Echo Spot” > “Wake Word.” There will be four from which to choose.
3. USE PIN PROTECTION OR DISABLE VOICE PURCHASES.
Open the Alexa app on your smartphone. Go to “Settings” > “Alexa Account” > “Voice Purchasing.” From there, you can toggle OFF the ability to enable Amazon purchases and payments by voice. If you choose to leave this toggled ON be sure to turn ON the “Voice Code” which will require a 4-digit voice code to confirm Amazon purchases and payments. This step will help you avoid situations like those parents who accidentally ordered Christmas presents by talking about them in front of Alexas.
4. TURN ON YOUR DEVICE’S SOUND NOTIFICATION.
This setting makes sure you know when Alexa is listening and when Alexa has completed an assist. Open the Alexa app on your smartphone. Go to “Settings” > “Device Settings” > Click your device name, ex. “[your name]’s Echo Spot” > “Sounds” > “Request Sounds” > Toggle both “Start of Request” and “End of Request” so they are bright blue, meaning ON.
5. PLACE YOUR ECHO AWAY FROM WINDOWS AND DOORS.
As Safety.com notes, this recommendation is to ensure Alexa does not accidentally get summoned. If using the Alexa Voice Remote, and as I understand it, this shouldn’t necessarily be an issue. That said, our family still follows this suggestion and keeps our Amazon Echo Spot in the kitchen. No complaints here because I love to hear the latest news, weather, etc. while getting my morning coffee ready.
6. REVIEW AND DELETE YOUR INTERACTIONS WITH ALEXA.
Wowza. This one was a surprise to me. So, get this — Amazon keeps a record of our requests to Alexa. Really. Upon setting up our Echo and learning this, I figured I’d see what it was all about, never expecting there to be any such recordings yet. I was shocked to view recordings from many months prior saved from our Amazon Fire Stick. All of a sudden I could hear my past requests for episodes of Paw Patrol, Frozen soundtracks and more.
Amazon stores your interactions with the Echo in order to improve the device’s performance and Alexa’s accuracy at interpreting user commands. For extra privacy, you can review and delete your communication with Alexa — yes, Amazon lets you do it. — Safety.com
How to review communication with Alexa via the Alexa app on your smartphone
Open the Alexa app on your smartphone. Go to “Settings” > “Alexa Account” > “History.” From there, you can delete specific voice recordings OR delete all of your voice recordings.
How to review communication with Alexa via your Amazon account on a web browser
Go to https://www.amazon.com/alexaprivacy and click the box that says, “Review Voice History,” which shows your voice interactions with Alexa. You can filter by date (I suggest you click “All History”) and choose an entry to see details, listen to and delete recordings.
7. COVER THE CAMERA.
Again, the Safety.com article doesn’t include this but I’m adding it to the list. Cover it with a sticker, Post-It note or something that will ensure the webcam isn’t allowing others to peek into your like if hacked (more on how to protect yourself from webcam hackers). If you want to go all out, you can buy a package of webcam covers online for a minimal price, though not necessary.
Welcome new technology — but be wise
Here’s to welcoming new technologies into our digital families — but let’s all pledge to be wise about it. The Amazon Echo Spot has proved to be a fun addition to our household, and I’m glad we have one. That said, there are many features that could be enjoyed but I choose not to for safety and privacy reasons. As with anything, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to these smart devices. Some individuals and families use them for different reasons. For example, as noted by CNBC, Alexa’s best skill could be as a home health-care assistant. Another interesting perspective is on how Alexa, Google and smart speakers are helping the disabled, elderly and depressed.
Thanks for letting me share about the trepidation that comes with my Christmas present. If you, too, are the proud owner of the Amazon Echo Spot or another smart speaker or digital assistant, I hope you leave with a few tips on how to stay safe and thoughtful digital parents and citizens.