Digital assistants are great, except when they aren’t.
This week, for example, a software glitch recorded everything people said when doing their reviews of the new Google Home Mini. Yes, everything they said all day and all night was stored on Google’s servers, which is not how these devices are supposed to work. The only voice recordings saved in the cloud for a Google Home or Amazon Echo product are supposed to be short snippets captured after saying the wake word, such as “OK Google” or “Alexa”.
Google has already patched the Home Mini software so don’t fret if you pre-ordered a device. Even so, it’s not a bad idea to periodically check to see what’s actually being recorded and saved by your digital assistant. Here’s how to do it.
Removing what Google Home and Google Assistant have heard
Google lumps the recordings into your Google account, which also captures search history, Google Assistant usage, and Play Music usage, to name a few things. So you’ll have to dig a little to get at your cloud-stored voice recordings. To do that, navigate to http://myaccount.google.com and make sure you’re signed in with your Google account.
On the main My Account page, look for the card titled “My Activity” and click the “Go to my activity link”. Here you’ll find a chronological stream of the data Google has captured and stored that’s associated with your account. While it’s generally a good idea to review all of the data, if you want to filter it for just the voice data, click the “Filter by date & product” link and then choose “Voice and Audio”.
Now you can easily see all of the stored voice snippets, complete with a Play button for each one so you can hear what your Google Home or Google Assistant app recorded.
While you can delete individual recordings, removing them all will take time. That’s where the “nuclear” option comes in handy because it will remove all recordings from Google’s servers in one fell swoop. To do this, choose the “Delete activity by” option in the menu on the left. Here you can choose a time-frame, with “All time” being one of the options. You can also limit the action to “Voice and Audio”.
Choose those, click “Delete” and all of your recordings will be erased from the cloud. Keep in mind, however, that if you continue to use Google Home or Assistant going forward, all new voice commands will be saved. And it’s possible that the digital assistant experience will be worse, at least for a little while, since Google uses the recordings to make its assistant smarter and personalized for you.
If you’d rather do all of this in the Google Assistant app, you can. The process is generally the same. Just look for the “My Activity” option in the app settings to review or delete saved voice conversations.
Removing what Amazon Echo and Alexa have heard
You can actually do this at an individual snippet level right in the Alexa app for iOS and Android as well. Just open the Alexa app and tap the little Home icon at the bottom left to see a stream of cards, which each card representing a voice interaction. Each of these has a little “More” link, so tap it to see or hear what Alexa heard.
To remove all voice history from Amazon’s servers, however, you have to visit their website here and log in. Tapping the “Your Content and Devices” tab will show all of your Echo devices. Click the little menu button to the left of any Echo device for a pop-up menu that provides a “Manage Voice Recordings” option.
You’ll get an informational warning message explaining that your Echo experience may degrade since like Google, Amazon uses the recordings to make Alexa smarter and personalized.
If you’re OK with that just tap the “Delete” button and the recordings will be erased.
What you give and what you get
Remember that our personal digital assistants are just that: Personal. For them to be customized to individual users, they need to learn about us. And not just how we speak, but also about our preferences, purchases, and the type of information we search for. So yes, we’re giving up that data for any of these devices. In return, for those who find that acceptable, our assistants can make our life easier. It’s a trade-off for sure, and one that we all need to individually decide if we’re willing to accept it or not.
Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis