Amazon sells a lot of Alexa-enabled devices, especially around the holidays. That's partly because they're a convenient and affordable gift for someone who wants to listen to music or have something on their counter to ask about the weather. It's also because Amazon aggressively discounts its Echo speakers at this time of year to encourage even more people to jump on the smart speaker bandwagon.
If you happened to get an Alexa device, there are a lot of cool features and skills that you can use beyond playing music, asking for the weather, or turning on the lights. At the same time, there are a few things you should do right now in order to better protect your privacy. After all, you just plugged in a device that's always listening in order to provide an answer as soon as you say its name.
These three privacy settings are worth a look. The first two can be found in the Alexa app on your iPhone or Android smartphone. The last one requires that you be logged in to your Amazon account in a web browser.
1. Turn Off Sidewalk
The first thing you should do is to turn off Sidewalk, Amazon's mesh network. It's designed to allow devices to connect to each other, even when they're unable to connect to a WiFi hotspot. That sounds great if you have a Ring doorbell that is in an inconvenient location, or if you happen to lose power. The problem is, it takes over a slice of your internet connection in order to allow any Sidewalk-enabled device to connect. It also means that your devices might end up connected to a different network altogether.
Another problem is the fact that Amazon has enabled it for all capable devices, even without asking users. If you have the Alexa app, you can tap on the More tab at the bottom, then select Settings > Account Settings > Amazon Sidewalk. You'll see that it's set to "Enabled," by default. Tap it to turn it off.
2. Turn Off Voice Recordings
In order for Alexa to answer your questions, it has to know you're asking. It does that by constantly listening for what is known as a wake word. In this case, that's "Alexa." When a device thinks it hears that word, it records whatever it hears next and saves those recordings.
For a long time, Amazon would have humans review those conversations to determine whether Alexa was actually answering the questions you were asking. That might seem reasonable until you think about the fact that it also records more than just your conversation with the Echo dot on the nightstand. Sometimes, for example, your device thinks you're talking to it, when you aren't.
You can stop Alexa from saving those recordings by visiting Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data > Choose How Long to Save Voice Recordings and select Don't Save Recordings.
3. Check Which Third-Party Skills Have Access
One of the things that makes Alexa so powerful is that you can use a variety of different "skills" to expand what your device is capable of. That includes everything from getting the weather, listening to music, looking up recipes, or translating different languages. In some cases, those skills come from third-party developers, meaning it isn't just Amazon that has access to your personal information.
Fortunately, you can control which skills have access to your data. In the Alexa App, choose Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Skill Permissions and you can decide which skills should have access to things like your location, street address, your name or email address, or your Amazon Pay account.
Bonus: Disable Search History
The last thing I recommend is that you disable your Amazon Search history. Technically this isn't an Alexa-specific privacy feature, but Amazon saves everything you search for online or in the Amazon app. All of that information is used to target you with ads and recommendations, but it means Amazon is collecting a lot of information about your shopping history and purchases.
To turn it off, visit Amazon.com, and click on the Account dropdown, and select Browsing History. Then, select Manage History and select the toggle to Turn Browsing History on/off.