AMAZON ECHO AND Google Home—and other devices that have Alexa and Google Assistant built in—are some of the most promising new technologies to come along in years. And they’re genuinely useful to have around, whether it’s to settle a bet or help out with a recipe. But it can also feel a little creepy to have a speaker in your house that’s always listening. What exactly is it doing with that info? Where does it go?
Here’s the good news. While their microphones are always on, Google Home and Alexa don’t actually do anything with your voice until you say their “wake word,” which is usually just ‘OK Google’ or ‘Alexa’. Despite the occasional viral story that suggests otherwise, Amazon and Google truly aren’t keeping track of every single thing you say.
After you say your wake word, though, your Alexa and Google Assistant do start recording, and then whisk those clips away to the cloud. The hardware itself is pretty dumb. In order to let you know with a snap who the 23rd president was, or what the weather will be like tomorrow, or to play a Dokken deep cut, voice assistants need to be able to pull information from the entire internet. That means a faraway server somewhere is what actually handles your request.
And on that server they’ll stay, unless you actively delete them. Which, fortunately, isn’t all that hard. Amazon and Google let you see what requests they’ve logged. In your Alexa app, go to Settings > History to see what Amazon has on file, and to delete them one by one. If you’d rather do a mass purge, head here and go to Your Devices > Echo Dot > Manage voice recordings. A pop-up will give you the chance to clear out the whole stash.
For Google Assistant, go to myactivity.google.com. That’s also where you can delete your voice requests, if you don’t want them lurking on corporate servers somewhere. Click on the three-dot line in the upper-right corner, then Delete activity by. From there, you can set a date range—today, yesterday, last 7 days, last 30 days, all time, or custom—and the service whose interactions you want to nuke. Click on All products, then Voice & Audio, then hit Delete. You’ll get a pop-up that asks if you’re absolutely positively sure you want to go through with it. Click OK, because you do. Then do the same for Assistant while you’re in there, just to be thorough. (There are 19 additional categories, ranging from Ads all the way down to YouTube, if you want to linger and take stock of just how much time you’ve spent with Google lately.)
And if you’re still anxious about Echo and Home, remember that both come equipped with a handy mute button. The Echo’s is on top; Google Home’s is in the back. Just remember that if they can’t listen to you at all, they’re basically fancy paperweights.