Digital assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are designed to learn more about you as they listen, and part of doing so is to record conversations you’ve had with them to learn your tone of voice, prompts, and requests. Recently, this feature-not-a-bug has landed Amazon in a string of bizarre headlines; in March users reported that their Echo speakers began spontaneously laughing, while last week a family in Portland said their device recorded and sent conversations to a colleague without their knowledge. For these instances, Amazon claims that the devices were likely triggered by false positive commands.
It’s not uncommon for smart speakers to pick up a random part of your everyday conversations and misunderstand it as a wake word (especially if you may have changed the Alexa trigger to a more common word, like “Computer.”) If you’re curious what Alexa has been hearing and recording in your household, here’s a quick way to check.
First, open the Alexa app on your smart device. Tap the hamburger icon on the top left side of the screen to open the menu options. Click on the Settings menu, then find History.
Here, you’ll be able to browse all the commands you’ve ever asked of Alexa, from timers to music requests to general internet queries. You can also sort the results by date. Sometimes you may even see just a line item that says “Alexa,” for those times you may have mentioned the assistant’s name but didn’t mean to actually use it.
You may notice a few instances where the Alexa app notes a “text not available.” Click on this and you can listen to a recording of what you or someone in your household said that prompted the Echo to listen to your current conversation. In the case of our Weekend Editor, Andrew Liptak, his Echo device recorded a snippet of his mother-in-law teasing his son, saying “Alexa is going to take over your house.” In the app, Alexa concluded that the audio was not intended for the assistant, and the speaker did not return a response.
If you are uncomfortable having any particular recording in your Alexa history, you can delete it on an individual basis, or go to the Amazon’s Manage Your Content and Devices page to wipe it entirely. The company, of course, cautions that doing so “may degrade your Alexa experience.”
As noted above, Amazon keeps these recordings to personalize the Alexa experience to your household and uses them to create an acoustic model of your voice. While it does automatically create a voice profile for each new user it recognizes (or ones you’ve manually added), the company says it deletes acoustic models if it has not recognized any particular user for three years.
For heavy Alexa users, going through all of these commands to find egregious conversations to delete might be too much work — but if you’re nervous about what the Echo has been listening to you say, it may be worth browsing to make sure nothing it has recorded is something you want transmitted elsewhere.
Photos by Andrew Liptak / The Verge