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How To Stop Alexa and Other Smart Assistants from Listening to Your Private Conversations

Have you ever wondered if your Amazon Echo or Google Home is listening to more than just your voice commands? Many of us have welcomed these convenient virtual assistants into our homes. But recent concerns over smart devices recording private conversations make some wary of potential eavesdropping.

You‘re not alone if you want to limit how much Alexa, Siri, and other AI helpers can listen to you and your family. The good news is you have options to restrict microphone access and disable features that use your voice recordings.

In this guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know to stop Alexa and other smart assistants from listening in on your private conversations when you need more privacy and control.

Why Do Smart Assistants Need to Listen At All?

Before jumping into specific steps to limit listening, it helps to understand why these devices listen in the first place. Companies state virtual assistants only record your voice for legitimate purposes, not to spy on users. Mainly, smart assistants listen for two core reasons:

1. Detecting Wake Words

The first reason is to detect "wake words" like "Alexa" or "Hey Google." Speaking this phrase prompts the smart assistant to activate, record your voice command, send it to company servers for processing, and return relevant information.

But virtual assistants do not actively listen to or record everything you say. Their microphones remain inactive until woken up by a specific wake word. Some minimal audio analysis happens on the device itself to detect potential wake words and activate the microphone.

So these devices are not continuously eavesdropping – they are listening for one specific word as a trigger.

2. Improving Accuracy and Performance

Companies behind smart assistants state they may review a small sample of voice recordings to improve performance.

For example, if Alexa frequently misinterprets the word "Alexis" as its wake word, Amazon engineers could analyze these recordings to tweak Alexa‘s algorithms and better distinguish between similar sounding words.

The goal is optimizing voice recognition and accuracy, not gathering data on users. Recordings are also anonymized to protect privacy during review.

Now that we understand why smart devices need to listen at a basic level, let‘s go over how they listen by default and how you can limit their capability to listen.

Are Smart Assistants Always Actively Listening?

Do virtual assistants listen to everything you say even when not prompted? Here is how popular assistants handle listening:

Amazon Alexa

According to Amazon, Alexa devices are not continuously listening to or recording your private conversations. The microphones remain inactive until the AI assistant detects its wake word.

However, Alexa gadgets do perpetually listen in a low-power mode for potential wake words. Some minimal audio analysis happens on the device to detect the phrase "Alexa." Then recordings are streamed to Amazon‘s servers for processing.

You can restrict this always-listening functionality by muting Alexa‘s microphone or disabling wake word detection. More details on that shortly.

Google Assistant

Similarly, Google states its Assistant does not actively listen without being prompted. The microphone only turns on and begins recording after detecting the phrases "Hey Google" or "Okay Google."

Google also recently rolled out an opt-in setting for enabling voice recording reviews to improve performance. This setting is disabled by default on all devices with Google Assistant.

Apple Siri

According to Apple, Siri also only listens for its wake phrase "Hey Siri" and does not record or retain audio without your consent.

However, accidental Siri activations by background noise or discussions can still occur. Disabling Siri is the best way to prevent these unintended triggers.

Now let‘s dive into specific steps to limit listening capabilities on these popular smart assistants. I‘ll also cover some additional best practices to protect your privacy.

How to Stop Amazon Alexa from Listening

If you want to restrict Alexa‘s ability to listen continuously for its wake word and process recordings, here are your options:

Mute Alexa‘s Microphone

The quickest way to disable Alexa from listening on all your Echo devices is to mute its microphone:

  • Open the Alexa app and tap Devices in the lower right corner.
  • Select All Devices.
  • Toggle the Microphone switch off (it will turn gray).

This instantly cuts power to Alexa‘s microphones across associated devices until you re-enable it. Alexa will not respond to you or process any audio when muted.

Delete Your Alexa Voice Recordings

You can also periodically delete your Alexa voice history to remove any recordings:

  • In the Alexa app, go to More > Settings > Alexa Privacy.
  • Choose Review Voice History.
  • Tap the checkbox next to each recording, then select Delete Selected Recordings.

For a quick voice history deletion, say "Alexa, delete everything I ever said to you" out loud. Alexa will request confirmation before wiping your recordings.

Opt Out of Voice Recording Reviews

Want to prevent Amazon employees from accessing recordings to improve performance?

  • Go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data.
  • Under Help Improve Alexa, turn the Use of Voice Recordings toggle Off.

Note this may degrade Alexa‘s responsiveness according to Amazon.

Disable the Alexa Wake Word

Don‘t want Alexa activating when you say "Alexa"?

  • Go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data.
  • Switch the Wake Word toggle Off.

You can still use the manual microphone buttons to activate Alexa when needed.

How to Stop Google Assistant from Listening

Google also provides options to limit its Assistant‘s ability to listen and process recordings:

Disable Voice & Audio Activity

To prevent your requests from being saved and linked to your account:

  • On your Android device, open the Google app and tap More > Settings > Google Assistant.
  • Select the Assistant tab > Assistant voice & audio.
  • Toggle Include voice & audio recordings Off.

Delete Google Assistant Recordings

Or you can periodically delete your Google Assistant history:

  • Visit myactivity.google.com while signed into your account.
  • Click Delete activity by and select Voice & Audio recordings.
  • Choose All time and then Delete to remove your entire history.

You can also say "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you" and your record will be wiped.

How to Stop Apple Siri from Listening

For Apple devices, you can disable Siri‘s always-listening capabilities:

Turn Off Siri on iPhone/iPad

To prevent Siri from listening for its wake phrase:

  • Go to Settings > Siri & Search.
  • Toggle Listen for "Hey Siri" and Press Side Button for Siri Off.

You can still activate Siri manually when needed.

Disable Siri on Mac

To stop Siri from listening on your Mac:

  • Click the Apple icon > System Preferences > Siri.
  • Uncheck Listen for "Hey Siri".

Turn Off Siri on Apple TV

To disable Siri on your Apple TV:

  • Go to Settings > General > Siri.
  • Switch Listen for "Hey Siri" and Use Siri Off.

Disable Siri on HomePod

To turn off Siri on a HomePod:

  • Open the Home app and long-press your HomePod.
  • Choose Settings > Siri.
  • Turn off Listen for "Hey Siri" and Use Siri.

How Smart Speaker Owners Limit Listening

Beyond adjusting settings, many smart speaker owners take additional precautions to protect privacy:

  • Use mute buttons – Pressing the physical mute buttons on Echo and Google Home devices temporarily disables their microphones completely.

  • Unplug devices – When you really want to guarantee no listening, unplug smart speakers and cameras. This cuts off power and microphone access.

  • Face speakers away – Point speakers away from private conversations if muting them is not possible in the moment. This makes eavesdropping less likely.

  • Use do not disturb modes – Putting devices into do not disturb mode when not in use limits potential listening.

  • Stick to first-party apps – Using the device-specific apps (Alexa app, Google Home app) provides more control over privacy settings versus third-party apps.

  • Review and delete recordings regularly – Periodically check your history and recordings to delete unwanted audio. Voice assistants store recordings indefinitely unless you manually delete.

  • Limit sensitive info – Be mindful of what details you share out loud even when devices are listening to avoid exposing private information.

Voice Assistant Privacy Statistics and Data

Recent surveys and studies reveal how consumers feel about smart device privacy:

  • 72% of smart speaker owners have privacy concerns according to an NPR report from early 2020.

  • 20% of smart speaker owners have unplugged their device over privacy worries per a 2019 Adobe Analytics survey.

  • 47% of smart speaker owners use mute buttons to disable listening according to a 2021 Findstack survey. This was the most common action owners took to boost privacy.

  • Just 25% of smart speaker owners have adjusted listening settings to limit recording according to the 2021 Findstack survey. Many owners remain unaware of privacy controls.

  • 16.5% of US households now own a smart speaker, up from 7.7% in 2018 according to NPR and Edison Research. So around 20 million US households now own an Alexa, Google Home or other smart speaker.

This data indicates the importance of educating smart assistant owners on how to adjust privacy settings and limit listening when wanted. While a minority take proactive steps to disable recording capabilities, many remain reliant on mute buttons or unplugging to prevent unwanted listening.

With the tips in this guide, you can take full control over your device’s ability to listen at any time.

Can You Use Voice Assistants Completely Privately?

If limiting Alexa and Google Assistant listening capabilities doesn‘t satisfy your privacy concerns, you may want to consider more private voice assistant options:

Snips

Snips is an open source voice assistant platform that runs completely offline. It processes all voice data and commands locally rather than transmitting to the cloud. No audio recordings or information are sent externally, providing excellent privacy.

The major downside is Snips cannot handle advanced voice requests relying on cloud connectivity and processing. But for basic tasks like timers, reminders, weather, and device control, Snips is a private alternative.

Mycroft

Mycroft is another open-source voice assistant you can install on a Raspberry Pi, desktop computer, or server in your home. Since it works offline, your data stays completely private.

Mycroft allows adding custom "skills" for expanded functionality. But like Snips, the capabilities are still more limited compared to cloud-connected assistants.

Precog

Precog is a paid voice assistant service costing $10 per month. It uses strong encryption and anonymity technology to keep data private, even when processing in the cloud.

Precog also has a premium ultra-secure mode using end-to-end encryption between your device and its servers for maximum data protection.

Briar

Briar is a privacy-centric voice assistant designed specifically for productivity rather than gathering personal data. It is self-hosted on a private server.

Briar focuses on calendar management, email, messaging, notifications, and lists. It has fewer smart home functions but more administrative capabilities while protecting privacy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Limiting Smart Assistant Listening

Still have some questions about controlling how much your smart devices can listen? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

Are Alexa/Google Home recording everything I say?

No. Alexa and Google Assistant do not actively record or listen to your private conversations without being triggered by their wake words first. However, they do perpetually listen for those wake words in a low-power mode.

Can I delete everything my smart assistant has recorded?

Yes. You can delete your entire voice history by saying "delete everything I‘ve ever said" or manually deleting all recordings from your Alexa/Google activity page or smartphone app. This erases all stored audio.

Do smart assistants still record when muted?

No. Manually pressing the mute buttons on an Amazon Echo, Google Home Mini or other smart speaker will completely cut power to the device‘s microphone. No listening or recording can occur when muted.

Are assistants spying on my personal conversations?

These companies likely aren‘t spying with intent. But processing voice data on remote servers means there is some privacy risk. Disabling listening functions reduces this risk when privacy is your main concern.

Can I use voice assistants 100% privately?

Yes, by using offline open-source voice assistants like Snips or Mycroft. Since all data processing happens locally, conversations remain private. However, functionality is more limited compared to cloud-based assistants.

Take Control of Your Smart Assistant’s Listening

After reading this guide, you should have a better understanding of why smart assistants listen, along with actionable steps to limit Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant and others from listening when you want more privacy.

While virtual assistants provide hands-free convenience, it‘s understandable to have concerns over potential eavesdropping. By disabling microphones, deleting recordings, and making use of mute buttons, you can easily take control over your device‘s ability to listen when needed.

I hope these tips give you confidence to enjoy the perks of smart devices, while also protecting your private information and conversations when you want. Just say the word if you have any other questions!

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Streamr Go

StreamrGo is always about privacy, specifically protecting your privacy online by increasing security and better standard privacy practices.