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3 essential privacy settings for your Amazon Echo

(Credit: Amazon)

People used to dream about robot secretaries. Futurists imagined a world where computers obeyed our every command. When the Amazon Echo on the market, that dream became a reality: Alexa was obedient, polite and all-knowing. They can perform a large number of basic tasks, with a personality as professional and cold as a human assistant.

This year, Echo is more popular than ever, and despite competition from Google, Amazon still dominates 75 percent of the virtual assistant market. With the ever-growing library of skills, Echo becomes more useful with each passing day.

Related: Not sure which virtual assistant to buy? Click here to find out which is best.

But even if Echo wins over more fans, critics are still skeptical. Alexa is always listening. Our votes will be recorded and stored. The owners worry that their Echo will be hacked, allowing strangers to hear their daily activities. Most people are willing to ignore these dangers, but some people that find an Echo in their stocking are terrified of an ad-hoc wiretap sitting in their living room.

If you already have an Ultrasound, be prepared for a shock. My Echo included a lot more than I ever thought was possible. Click here to learn how to hear all of your Amazon Echo-recordings (and to remove).

Before you welcome Alexa in your life, consider a number of security settings. You should not feel that they needed to be, but it is good to know what your options are.

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1. Turn the Echo microphone

The most vulnerable part of an Ultrasound device is the microphone, which absorbs all the sound in the room and can endanger your private conversations if it picks the wrong words. Turn off the microphone, press the microphone off/on button on the top. When the button is red, the microphone is turned off. To reactivate it, press the button again.

Then again, the muting of the microphone will stop the Echo can hear commands, making the device useless as a personal assistant. The always-on, always-listening nature of this intelligent virtual assistant speakers is what makes them really convincing gadgets to have. Related: Click here for a list of Alexa commands you should use.

Sometimes, you may wish to turn off the microphone for a short period of time, just for peace of mind. If you are the host of a top-secret conversation in your home, you can turn Alexa off during the sensitive parts, and then re-activate it later with her.

2. Turn Voice of the Purchase or setting up a PIN code for purchases

“Alexa, buy more laundry detergent.” This is a pretty nifty trick, and it is a great attraction for people who like to shop for household items online. This can feel like one of the most futuristic features, but a single security breach can cost you dearly.

Personally, I put my Echo on the Voice of the Purchase of the option and the use of Amazon’s app or website to shop. To turn it off, open the Alexa app, and then tap Settings. Then scroll down, tap Voice Procurement and to “the Purchase by the voice”.

Related: Click here for a list of other unexpected Alexa skills.

If you still opt for the convenience (and the sci-fi atmosphere) of the Echo-voice of the purchase, the setting of a PIN code to prevent unauthorized purchases. In order to set this, go to the same Voice Purchase of settings page on your Alexa app, to “the Purchase by the Voice”, select the “Voice Code”. This will ask you to enter your four-digit PIN code.

Now, the four-digit code must be pronounced to make a purchase on your Echo. That said, can everyone just listen and re-use your code, so a Vote on the Purchase of PIN, it is not infallible.

3. Please check your ‘Drop-In’ settings

Back in June, Amazon introduced a new Echo feature called “Drop-In” that works on all Echo gadgets, including the Point and the Show. Drop In let other Echoes be automatically connect to another Echo to start a conversation. The other party doesn’t even have to choose the call; the line is automatically open and works just like an intercom system.

Although useful in some respects, this can be a privacy issue, because people can “drop-in” to your Echo and listen at any time. This is the reason why it is vital that you your Echo’s Drop In settings.

Open your Alexa smartphone app, and then tap Settings. Under Devices, select the Echo speaker you want to adjust. Scroll down and tap on “Drop-In” and from here you can set up On, Only My Household or Off.

You can get specific contacts to be able to fall on you automatically to the Conversations tab (it looks like a text bubble icon) on your Alexa app and tap on the Contact icon (it is in the shape of a person) in the upper-right corner. Based on your phone in the contacts list, the Alexa-the app will then get a list of everyone who has an Echo

linked to their phone number (creepy, I know), and you simply toggle the “Contact can Drop In Anytime”.

Be careful that you are not in the way that the contact with access to your Echo devices automatically and drop in or listen in and talk to them at any time.

To control the contacts that are allowed to Drop in, go to the Contacts Menu again and make sure that “Others Can go to my Devices’ to anyone who is permitted. Tap Remove, to withdraw, and the contact with the Decrease In the rights.

Bonus: Turn on the Echo Show camera

If you haven’t seen it, the Echo is a mini-interactive TV-screen with additional touchscreen controls. Sell it for less than $200, the Show contains everything you need to know about your speaker, plus transcribed song lyrics, surveillance footage of the baby’s room and video calls.

Video calls are an exciting tool, but many people find the camera fear-inducing as the microphones. What does the camera see? Is the watch the whole day and night? How do you know if it is already hacked? Many people put tape over the webcams on their laptops; they may feel compelled to do the same with their Echo.

Fortunately, the camera of the device and the mics are very easy to turn off. There is a button on the top of the Show that the checks of the inputs. Just press “off”, and both cameras and microphones turned off. The LED on the front also red, indicating that the inputs were closed. You can still use the touch screen and without a hitch.

If you want more tech tips to help you? Call my radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. Of the buy of an opinion to the digital world problems, click here for my free podcasts.

Copyright 2017, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Learn about the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and provides advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.

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