Protect Your Privacy – Stop Your Voice Assistant From Always Listening
Should you stop your voice assistant from always listening to you? Your voice assistant listens and responds to your commands using voice recognition. It’s amazing that your assistant is so efficient, right? But, what does your voice assistant really listen to? Is your voice assistant always listening to you?
The answer is: Yes, your voice assistant is maybe listening to everything that is said in your personal space. Just think about everything that your voice assistant is hearing, and recording. Your voice assistant is always listening, waiting for your commands.
Why do you allow your personal smart home devices to monitor your lives? They hear what you do. They know what you talk about. Your private conversations are being listened to and recorded.
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Whether your voice assistant is Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant (Google), Siri (Apple), Cortana (Microsoft), or Bixby (Samsung) you are allowing your privacy to be compromised. Do you think you should stop your voice assistant from always listening to you?
According to Statista, in 2020 there more than 4.2 billion voice assistants in use worldwide. That number is expected to exceed 8.4 billion by the end of 2024. That’s more than the number of people in the entire world.
The devices that your voice assistant control vary in type and functionality. Some of them have cameras and microphones that can capture information that you should consider private and sensitive.
This article discusses how you can stop your voice assistant from always listening to you and take control of your privacy by keeping your conversations and activities out of the eyes and ears of your voice assistants and smart devices.
Exactly, what does always listening mean?
Ideally, smart devices like smart speakers and mobile devices that have a voice assistant feature like “Hey Google, “Alexa”, or “Hey Siri” is only listening and recording you after you activate them using the voice command.
However, as you have probably experienced, your voice assistant sometimes activates itself based on random sounds or phrases that sound similar to the activation command. This can be problematic. You can stop your voice assistant from always listening to you.
It means private data may be uploaded to third-party servers, recorded, and listened to by real live people. When real live people are listening it is being done as a quality assurance procedure, intended to improve the intelligence of your personal voice assistant.
The employees or third-party contractors of these companies listen to conversations you have with your voice assistant and your other smart devices. Supposedly, your identity remains anonymous and the contractors can’t see your personal information or who you are.
The terms and conditions you agree to when using your smart devices and voice assistants are sometimes difficult to understand and vague. Many companies have access to, and use, the data that you store with them for many different purposes.
There are privacy settings that you can change to prevent contractors and employees of the companies from listening to the recordings of your conversations. This article discusses that option, along with other methods to stop your voice assistant from always listening to your private conversations.
How to stop voice assistants from always listening
The voice commands you use to get your voice assistants’ attention sure are convenient. It’s a lot easier to just bark out a command like “Hey Google” than to initiate the process using other means. And, if you’re not concerned about unintended recordings being listened to by third parties, then just keep on barking out those commands.
Here are some phrases I have found that falsely trigger voice assistants:
- Microsoft Cortana: “Montana,” “Fontana,” “Frittata”
- Alexa: “unacceptable,” “election,” “all excellent,” “a letter”
- Siri: “a city,” “hey Jerry,” “hey, seriously,” “that’s scary”
- Google Home: “May frugal”, “OK, cool,” “Okay, who is reading,” “Ok, you know”
Also, it should be noted that manufactures may configure their specific software so that specific phrases will trigger the voice assistant feature. Yes, this is bothersome but legal. Manufacturers protect their actions by fine and confusing print in their terms and agreements. That’s another reason to stop your voice assistant from always listening.
If you’re still reading then you are uncomfortable with your smart devices and voice assistants constantly listening to you and intruding on your privacy. That’s understandable because your conversations can be misused against you. So, here’s how to take control of your privacy and keep your conversations where they belong, within the confines of your own home, and your personal space.
Stopping Voice assistants
Most popular voice assistants will start listening if they hear (or think they hear) the wake word or phrase. That can create a situation where your voice assistant is listening to a conversation that’s better left private. Your voice assistant can be set not to listen all the time.
Here, we take a look at solutions for the popular voice assistants and outline the steps to turn off the listening mode for your particular device. Some of the steps are quicker to use on some devices than others. The key is to realize that once you go through the process one time it will become more familiar to you and easier to use.
Photo by Thomas Kolnowski
Google Smart Speaker – how to stop your Google smart speaker from always listening and recording
Google smart speakers, including Nest, have a button or switch that is physically located on them. Simply push the button or toggle the switch to turn off the microphone.
Google Assistant – how to turn off Google Assistant
Open the Settings app on your device. Scroll down to Account Services and tap on that. Tap Search, Assistant & Voice. Then tap Google Assistant. Then tap on Assistant, and scroll down to Google Assistant. Tap on Assistant and scroll down to Assistant devices, and tap on Phone. There you will see a toggle slider to turn off Google Assistant.
On IOS devices
On your device open the Settings app. Now, scroll down and tap Privacy. Tap on the menu item labeled Microphone. Under the list of apps find the Google Assistant and toggle the green switch to Off.
Cortana on Windows 10
Go to the Start menu and click Settings. Click Privacy. Find the Microphone on the left-side panel and click on it. Now, scroll down to Cortana and toggle the Microphone permission to Off.
Amazon Echo – how to stop your Amazon Echo device from listening to you
On your Echo device, you can find a button that has a circle with a line through it or a small microphone. By simply pushing the button you can turn off the microphone. It’s your option to turn off the microphone when not in use.
Siri – how to turn off the listening mode for Siri
Go to the Settings app on your iPhone. Then scroll down and tap Siri & Search. Then look for Listen for “Hey Siri” and toggle the switch next to that. You can also prevent Siri from activating by turning off the “Allow Siri when locked” feature.
Google has account activity controls that give you control over what is saved
You know you can stop your voice assistant from always listening to you by deactivating or muting the microphone on your devices. Most companies, including Google, have privacy and activity controls you can access in your account. this article will briefly cover the way to access those settings in your Google account. Other types of accounts with other brands will offer similar solutions and methods.
You can use your Activity Controls to choose what kinds of activity are saved in your Google Account. This is important because you control what activity is saved and delete any saved activity.
- Web & App Activity saves your searches and other activity on Google services to make searches faster and give you customized experiences in Search, Maps, and other Google products. You can also choose to save your:
- Chrome history and activity from sites, apps, and devices that use Google services
- Audio recordings from your interactions with Google Search, Assistant, and Maps.
- Location History creates a private map of where you go with your signed-in phones to provide improved map searches, commute routes, and more.
- YouTube History stores:
Within your Google account, you can see what is being saved and choose what you want to be saved. Use the Data & Personalization, located on the left-side pane, to manage your activity settings.
For more information and details got to the Google Support page.
And, if you are concerned about accidental activations and privacy intrusions and have turned your assistant off there are other methods that can be used to activate your voice assistant.
How do I manually activate my voice assistant?
☼ Siri (Mac) — Find the “Siri” button at the left of the clock and click it.
☼ Cortana (Windows 10) — Find the “Cortana” button by the search box on the left side of the taskbar and click it.
☼ Android (Various devices) — Long-press the Home button to launch Google Assistant. (This may vary between devices.)
☼ Siri (iPhone) — Press the Side button and immediately start speaking to Siri. On an iPhone with a Home button, press the Home button and immediately start speaking.
☼ Siri (iPad) — Press the Home button and immediately start speaking. On iPads without a Home button, press the Top button and immediately start speaking.
☼ Siri (Apple Watch) — Press the Digital Crown on the side of the watch and immediately start speaking.
► Once you know where the button is on your device just press the button and start talking.
Note: Siri is available on the iPad 3 and later. It is not available on the original iPad or the iPad 2. You must have an active internet connection to use Siri.
Image by House Vector
Read more: Protect yourself from online Identity theft
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Resource: Google Assistant Device Specifications
Resource: Unacceptable, where is my privacy?