Tech Friday: Limiting how much data Amazon Echoes collect

Posted By on June 28, 2019

Unfortunately I’ve bought into – or was “gifted” into 🙂 – BUT really enjoy the Amazon Echo smart speaker virtual assistant devices. I know Alexa is “always listening” (as is my cellphone, iPad, computers, etc) and that they are doing “who knows what”with my data, but probably not always what I want. Obviously, they dissect and analyse what is being said for marketing purposes, just as Google does with my search history (although I try to use DuckDuckGo.com) … but we get mixed signals as to what is being tracked, harvested, kept for profiling and being sold to others (yikes).

A Phys.org and USA Today does a decent job of reviewing the conundrum being faced by users who appreciate the tech conveniences, but question the amount of data Amazon needs to archive on not just the willing buyer of the Echo, but every person (minors, guests, pets, etc) that set foot in your home. At this point, Alexa doesn’t differentiate … she just listens and “feeds the beast” that is Amazon. All others competitors are likely doing the same to one degree or another — it is still the Wild West when it comes to privacy.

Here’s how to stop at least the tracking (read full article here)

First of all, Amazon’s tracking defense is that by knowing your location, it can deliver products to your home faster. "For example, if we know your preferred shipping location, the specificity of our predictable shipping is really amazing," amazonalexaAmazon said in a statement. "Customers may see a message like, ‘if you order in the next 2:27 minutes, you will get this by tomorrow.’"

To stop Amazon tracking, begin by wiping out your browser histories. This setting is in tools; in Chrome, you click the three dots in the top right corner, go to More Tools, then Clear Browsing Data. This click will wipe out your browsing history, stored passwords and cookies. You’ll have a lot to input again after you do this. For instance, stored URLs and sign-ons will be wiped clean. So make sure you know your passwords or have them stored somewhere else before you do it.

You can also delete your browsing history on Amazon.

Like most websites, Amazon wants to leave a "cookie" in your browser, for tracking purposes. Browsers have tools to delete cookies, but should you do so, Amazon will be inoperable for shoppers. "You will not be able to add items to your Shopping Cart, proceed to Checkout, or use any Amazon.com products and services that require you to Sign in," says Amazon.

Unlike Facebook and Google, Amazon doesn’t monitor your every movement in the real world. Its interest is how you shop and entertain yourself, but it notes that you can disable location access on your smartphones in the settings section.

Amazon’s big ears are all over your computer and mobile phoneclicks. While you’re at home, it’s all about potentially listening and noting your viewing tastes via the Alexa and Fire TV products.

Unlike Facebook, where many people believe, despite the social network’s denials, that it listens in on conversations, Amazon freely admits it does—as long as you say the Alexa wake word.

Amazon stores recordings of every interaction you’ve had with Alexa, available for listening in the smartphone app, available by clicking Settings and Alexa Privacy.

There, you can read and listen to your past conversations with Alexa, delete all or individual recordings. You can also have Alexa do it, by saying, "Alexa, delete everything I said today."

Amazon insists that it doesn’t willfully listen to you at home, only when you use the wake word. But in reviewing my history, I found many instances where it did record oddball phrases without the wake word. Everything from "Go 101 South for 1 mile," from the Waze instruction in the car to a line from a podcast I was listening to: "I know exactly who (the late actor) Ben Gazzara was." And recorded snippets of a U.S. TODAY staff meeting were recently recorded in which the wake word was never uttered.

Amazon got some bad press earlier this year when Bloomberg reported that thousands of Amazon workers were employed to listen to Echo recordings.

"We only annotate a fraction of one percent of voice interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience," Amazon said, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Amazon monitors your music, book and TV/movie selections via the Music, Kindle, Audible and Prime Video apps to make better recommendations, says the company.

But if you have a Fire TV streaming stick, or the Fire TV Amazon-branded TVs from Toshiba or Insignia, Amazon also wants to throw some targeted ads at you—unless you change your settings. (You can go the Settings section of the Fire TV app and TV to opt out and decline having more ads pushed to you.)

"If you opt-out of interest-based ads on this device," the message reads, "apps will be instructed not to use the advertising ID to build profiles for advertising purposes or target you with interest-based ads on this device."

Amazon declined to comment.

Comments

Desultory - des-uhl-tawr-ee, -tohr-ee

  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
  2. digressing from or unconnected with the main subject; random: a desultory remark.
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