After Amazon was forced to explain why a couple’s private conversation was shared from their Echo last month, smart hub privacy is dominating the headlines.
As reported by The Verge in May, an ‘unlikely string of events’ saw an Echo smart hub send audio to another user without the owner’s permission. Amazon says this happened because the smart hub misinterpreted parts of the couple’s conversation as a request to send a message.
Last month we surveyed 1,461 Which? members about devices with voice control, including smartphones and smart speakers as well as smart hubs, and 55% of the respondents who own them don’t actually use the voice control. Concerns about privacy and that the devices are always listening was given as a reason by a fifth of these people.
So what is your own smart hub actually listening to and recording? Below, we explain how to use the Google Home and Alexa mobile apps to find and delete audio your smart hub has saved behind the scenes.
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Smart home hubs: find and delete saved audio
Downloading the Google Home smartphone app lets you control your Google Home or Google Home Mini remotely. With it, you can browse through suggestions for handy smart hub commands, adjust privacy settings and identify the smart products on your wi-fi network.
You may be surprised to hear that your Google Home app may be storing recordings of you interacting with your smart hub. To see what data is tied to your Google account, open Google Home, tap the settings icon in the top-left corner and then select My Activity.
The My Activity page keeps a record of all those times you’ve interacted with your smart hub, and in some cases the app stores audio clips of you speaking to the device. In our example above, you can see we’ve been barking orders at the Google Home Mini in the evening – the audio evidence is right there.
To delete a single entry (and the audio log as well), tap the three dots icon and hit Delete. If you select Details, you’ll be presented with more information on that action, such as the time and date it was created, the device you made the command from, the device you were speaking to and a location stamp with a link right to Google Maps.
Want to remove all saved activity within a certain period? At the time on the screen by the search bar, tap the three dots and choose Delete activity by. From here, you can delete by topic, product or date.
Whether My Activity stores audio or not is up to you. If you want to deny that permission, click on Activity controls inside an entry. You’ll be presented with a screen that has on/off toggles for Web & App Activity, Location History, Device Information and Voice & Audio Activity.
Thinking of buying a Google Home smart hub? Don’t part with your cash without reading our Google smart hub reviews first.
If you want to check what data is logged, open the Alexa app and tap the settings icon in the top-left corner. From there, select History to see a record of what you’ve asked the home hub to help you out with. Like the Google Home app, each voice command is treated as a single entry, so regular users will likely have hundreds to scroll through.
In some cases, where the hub has struggled to understand what you’ve asked, a written summary isn’t available. Instead, the app offers up a recording so you can work out what it was you were saying.
If you don’t like the idea of the Alexa app acting as a home for audio, as with the Google Home, deleting entries is an option. Tap on one of them in the History tab and you can choose Remove this entry or Delete voice recordings. Just bear in mind that on its Help & Feedback page, Amazon states: ‘Deleting voice recordings may degrade your Alexa experience.’
See how Amazon’s smart hub range scores with our Amazon smart home hub reviews.
How to protect your smart home data
Setting up a smart home device without effective security in place could leave your data exposed. We recommend you set strong (yet memorable) passwords on a new smart home device to make it tricky for an attacker to guess, but there’s more you can do.
To see our five top tips for keeping your smart home data secure, head over to our guide to how to protect your smart home data.