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  • Writer's pictureMacalister Bali

It’s True! They are listening

Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft each have audio-driven digital assistant technology that’s always listening to hear the magic wake word.

The devices don’t record or transmit any data until the digital assistant is activated by the wake word first in theory anyway. However, convenience and ease of use will trump security and privacy. After all, the selling point is the how simple it is to get things done hands-free. However, you might want to have more control and kill the active listening on these devices when not in use

In other words, someone may be listening, and while it's a given that smart assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant can't improve without help from humans analyzing their accuracy, tech companies need to do a far better job of telling users what they're up to.

Amazon has Alexa on its Echo devices, Fire TV, and Fire tablets, and Alexa is rapidly showing up on other devices, too. Google Assistant is available on Android phones, select Chromebooks, and the Google Home smart speaker it's answer to the Amazon Echo. Microsoft’s Cortana is available on Windows 10, Windows Phone, and powers the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker; which is set to be released this fall. Apple’s Siri is available on its iOS devices, macOS Sierra, watchOS, and Apple TV via the Siri remote. Siri will also be featured in the soon to be launched HomePod.

Apple and Google have suspended their respective “grading” programs pending a review and Apple has promised to eventually launch new privacy settings to allow users to keep anyone else from hearing their Siri voice recordings. But if you’re an Amazon Echo or Google Home user, you can shut the door on “human review” of your voice recordings right now. Here’s how to do it.


Amazon provided a specific set of directions to opt out of human review. To do so, first open the Amazon Alexa app and click on Settings. From there, tapping through “Alexa Privacy” and “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” will bring you to a screen with an updated explanation of the policy. At the bottom, unchecking a box labeled “Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features” means that no recordings can be poached for human review.

Turning this off does not mean that Alexa recordings won’t still be uploaded to Amazon’s servers. To delete recordings, navigate through Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History in the app. Then you can choose to delete specific recordings or to delete through a certain timespan.


In iOS, go to Settings > Siri & Search. Then turn off “Listen for ‘Hey, Siri’ ” and “Press Side Button for Siri.” You’ll get a notification asking if you want to disable Siri, where you’ll select Turn Off Siri. The last step is to go to Settings > General > Keyboard. There, turn off “Enable Dictation.”

On a Mac desktop or laptop, go through System Preferences > Siri. Then, turn off “Enable Ask Siri.” After that, return to System Preferences > Dictation. Finally, turn off “Dictation.”


Google Assistant, tap the Google Home app, then go to Account > More settings > Your data in the assistant > Voice & Audio Activity. You can deactivate voice and audio recording using the toggle on that screen.

Microsoft’s Cortana

All Windows 10 computers and mobile devices come with Cortana built-in. The wake word is “Hey, Cortana” and you’ll first need to make sure it’s enabled for voice interaction. For more on that, check out our article on how to turn the “Hey Cortana” feature on or off. You just need to switch it off to disable active listening.

If you own an Xbox console, you can turn Cortana off by heading to Settings > All Settings > Cortana Settings.

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