True and False: Amazon Echo Privacy Matters

The Amazon Echo has had its share of bumps in the road since it hit (and dominated) the smart home tech and assistant market. Most of the issues that it has had have revolved around consumer privacy; some of these concerns are solid, and some are just crazy conspiracy theories. How are we supposed to tell the difference? Here’s a quick review of some of the most popular Amazon Echo rumors, and a rundown of whether they are true or false.

“It’s always listening”
Verdict: TRUE

It is true that the Amazon Echo uses a microphone that is technically “always on.” This design is a must if the device is going to work properly and be able to react and interact within the home. The device works with a pre-set wake up phrase, which prompts it to go from just listening to actively engaging. Without the always on microphone, users would not be able to send commands to their device hands-free, which would seriously stunt the usefulness of the device as a whole.

For those that don’t like that the device is always listening, there is an option to temporarily disable the microphone. At on-demand times determined by the users, the microphone can be muted by pressing the mute button on the device. This is a great way for people to still be able to use smart home devices, but to also feel more comfortable having private or sensitive conversations in their home. Just don’t forget to turn the microphone back on, otherwise the Echo won’t be able to respond to your next inquiry.

“It’s recording everything”
Verdict: FALSE

This is where things can get a little confusing; yes, your Echo is always listening, but no, it isn’t always recording. There was a recent incident where a couple reported that their private conversation was recorded by their Echo without permission or prompting from them. The Echo somehow heard a wake phrase and then several commands, which prompted it to not only record their conversation, but also to then send that conversation as a voice file to a person on their contact list. This, understandably, freaked them out (along with many other Echo users). Before you go unplugging, returning, or burning your Echos, though, consider that this was a glitch incident. The Echo has been on the market – and in homes – for years, and this isn’t a problem that is running rampant. If you are worried about your privacy, you can always check the Alexa app to see what the device has been recording – and you can delete those recordings. Likely, you’re just going to see an exhausting list of all your recent inquires.

Alexa works for the CIA
Verdict: FALSE

This is a weird one, but worth a quick mention. There was a video that went viral where a person asked Alexa if she worked for the CIA. Instead of getting the blue ring that usually accompanies an inquiry, there was nothing. No response. This is unusual because typically if the Echo can’t answer an inquiry or didn’t understand the question, it will respond with something. Apparently in this case, the Internet considered the omission of a response an admission of conspiracy. Amazon was alerted to this glitch and updated their software so that now the response is, “No, I’m not employed by them. I work for Amazon.”