In light of recent reports that our digital voice assistants are pretty much  always listening to us, and the companies behind them have contractors review recordings of some of those interactions, Amazon, Google, and Apple have said that they've suspended human review of those recorded snippets, or now allow you to opt out. 

That's somewhat reassuring, though at this point, they didn't really have much choice. It was sort of the least they could do after the public outcry that came with knowing contractors apparently hear all kinds of accidental recordings, including what a whistleblower told The Guardian are "countless instances of recordings featuring private discussions between doctors and patients, business deals, seemingly criminal dealings, sexual encounters, and so on."

This seems like one of those things that could have, and should have been avoided had someone at any of these companies thought through what people might think knowing that they are basically being spied on.

I think most of us understand that in order to make artificial intelligence work better-- and that's what voice assistants are-- some measure of human involvement is necessary. But in the case of Apple, at least, the company's privacy policy wasn't even clear about what types of review it was conducting. That's a problem for a company that prides itself on being unique in protecting your privacy.

Still, the companies seem to have gotten the message, or at least that's what they'd like us to think based on recent steps they've taken to give us a little more control over our private information.

Amazon and Google both allow you to turn off human review, and give you the ability to delete previously recorded interactions. Here's how:

Amazon Alexa

To turn off human review of your Alexa interactions, follow these steps:

  • Open the Amazon Alexa app on your iOS or Android or Android device.

  • Go to Menu > Settings > "Alexa Privacy."

  • Find and tap on "Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa."

  • Toggle off next to "Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features."

You can also delete any of your existing Alexa voice recordings by going back to the Alexa Privacy screen in the app and selecting "Review Voice History"

Google Assistant

Want to delete your recorded interactions from Google Assistant? Here's how:

  • Open the Google Home app and select "Account."

  • Tap on "More Settings," and then select "Your Data In the Assistant."

  • Finally, tap on "Voice & Audio Activity" and toggle off.

To delete any of your existing Google Assistant recordings, you can do so by going to "Manage Activity" in the Google Home app

Apple Siri

Apple doesn't yet have a way to delete any previously recorded Siri interactions, but has said that it has paused its human review process. A company spokesperson also told The Verge: "While we conduct a thorough review, we are suspending Siri grading globally. Additionally, as part of a future software update, users will have the ability to choose to participate in grading."

You can expect the ability to opt out to be included in upcoming versions of iOS and updates to macOS. 

Published on: Aug 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.