Over time, virtual assistants like Amazon Alexa can end up with a big store of your data. While much of it is mundane, some – such as where you’ve been, or what you’ve asked for help with – might be highly personal. While Amazon pledges to keep it safe, it’s a good idea to review what Alexa already knows about you, delete anything you don’t want to keep, and change the settings to match your preferences. Here’s how to manage your Alexa privacy settings.
Like other virtual assistants, Amazon Alexa needs to gather lots of data about you and your devices. If you want easy voice control of your heating, lights and music, it needs to know about your smart devices and players. Every time you ask for directions, local recommendations or help with anything, Alexa needs to store, analyse and process information such as what you said, and where you were when you said it.
This information-gathering is a fundamental part of how virtual assistants work. Indeed, analysing this huge store of data is the main reason that Alexa and the Google Assistant have become so good at figuring out what we want. However, if you’re concerned about the data Alexa has on you, and what it might be sharing, it’s easy to review and delete your history, and manage how data is collected and shared in the future.
You can manage your Alexa activity history and privacy settings from a web browser, but getting to the right page is a bit of a hassle. Sign in to your account at amazon.co.uk, hover your mouse over ‘Hello [your name] Account & Lists’ to open the account menu, then select ‘Manage Your Content and Devices’. Now click ‘Privacy Settings’ in the third menu pane from the top, and select ‘Alexa Privacy’.
From the Alexa app, you just tap ‘More’, then ‘Settings’, then ‘Alexa Privacy’. Once you’ve navigated to the privacy settings screen, the experience is near-identical in the app or browser. If you’re looking for a specific item or theme in your voice history, your browser’s search features may make it easier to track it down.
View Amazon Alexa privacy settings
On the main Alexa privacy settings page, you’ll see that the settings are divided into four sections. Tap ‘Review Voice History’, or click the arrow below it, to open the voice history page. Here you’ll see a list of everything you’ve asked Alexa today. Click or tap the ‘Displaying:’ filter if you want to change to a longer time period or filter the results to a specific Alexa device.
Once you’re viewing the results you want, scroll down to see the individual commands you’ve given. If you’re using a browser, you can use Ctrl + F to open a search box and quickly find specific keywords, such as ‘doctor’ or ‘interview’. Click or tap the downward chevron to expand any entry, then click the play icon to hear the audio, or the bin icon to delete it. You can also tell Alexa whether it did or didn’t do what you wanted in response.
By default, Alexa uses your recordings to improve its understanding of what you and others want it to do. Below we’ll guide you through opting out of these features, but it’s simple to delete all or some of your recordings in one go. Use the filters to select the device(s) and time period you want, then click or tap ‘Delete all recordings from…’ or ‘Delete all of my recordings’, depending which filters you selected. Click or tap ‘Delete’ to confirm and remove the recordings.
Manage smart home devices and skills
If you’ve set up smart home skills, Alexa receives and stores devices’ status information to help it understand and better interact with them. Some skills also require data from Alexa, such as access to your location. It’s simple to delete Amazon’s store of your smart home device history. Click Manage Smart Home Devices History (in the app you may need to tap Menu first), then click or tap the button and agree to the notification.
Alexa gives you more detailed control over the permissions you grant to skills. Click or tap ‘Manage Skill Permissions’ (again, in the app you might need to tap ‘Menu’ first) and you’ll see a list of the available permissions, and whether you’ve granted them to any apps. Scroll down this list to check that you’re not providing data you’re unaware of or uncomfortable with. For example, you might not want to allow some apps access to your mobile number or email address.
For each data type, you’ll see a summary of whether any skills have access. Tap the downward chevron to expand the box and see the details. You can revoke a skill’s permission to any data type by clicking the slider, and selecting Confirm. It may be that you’re concerned about the permissions you’ve granted to a specific skill. In this case, tap or click the chevron in the ‘Filter by skill:’ header and tick the skill you want to review. Now you can see at a glance which permissions it has.
Remember that revoking skills’ permissions may stop them working. If you don’t trust a skill, or you don’t want to use it any more, disable it by tapping ‘More’, then ‘Skills & Games’ in the Alexa app. Tap the ‘Your Skills’ heading, select the skill, tap ‘Disable Skill’, then click ‘Disable’ to confirm.
Manage your Alexa data
Once you’ve purged any recordings, permissions or skills that you want to be removed, you can review your settings for future storage. Click or tap ‘Manage Your Alexa Data’ and review the Voice section. The first option will return you to the list of voice recordings. Click or tap the slider in the second section to enable quick and easy voice deletion, for example by saying “Alexa, forget what I just said”. Note that anyone with access to your Alexa devices will be able to delete recordings in this way.
Clicking the chevron next to ‘Choose how long to save recordings’ lets you configure the setting. By default, Alexa keeps voice recordings until you delete them, but you can configure it to purge them after three or 18 months – or not to keep them in the first place. Note that Alexa might not work as well if you don’t save recordings at all. Importantly, if you disable voice recordings then you’ll remove any voice profiles you’ve set up, meaning Alexa won’t be able to distinguish between – and customise its responses for – the different members of your household.
The final section contains settings for how Alexa deals with your voice recordings. By default, Amazon may manually review your recordings to check how well it understands them. It can also use them when developing new features. Turn the slider off to disable the feature, and select ‘Turn off’ when prompted.
The last privacy option is an important one. Amazon has access to any messages you send using Alexa. While it uses this to improve its transcription, you might not want the tech giant able to view details of a personal or business discussion. If not, simply disable the slider for yourself and any users who object, and you’re done.
While gathering data is essential for virtual assistants to recognise your voice and understand how best to act upon it, it’s important to keep tabs on what they know and whether they’re sharing it. Following the steps above helps you to control how Alexa works with your information, letting you relax and get the most out of it.