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Can You Use Alexa to Spy on Someone?


Capable of setting alarms, creating shopping lists, bringing you the latest news headlines, playing audiobooks and answering your burning questions, Alexa has become a welcomed addition to many homes across the globe.

Alexa’s voice activation brings a new level of convenience to your life using a built-in microphone and speaker.

However, with this convenience, many people worry if the built-in microphones can be used for slightly more sinister reasons, like eavesdropping, recording conversations, or dropping in on other devices without them knowing.

Some Alexa devices, such as the Echo Show, even have built-in cameras, which adds another dimension to peoples concerns of spying and secret filming.

In this article, we answer some of the burning questions people have regarding Alexa and the levels of privacy it offers.

You cannot use Alexa to spy on someone. The only theoretical way is by using the ‘drop in’ function, although you need approval as a contact, and the recipient will receive an alert. Alexa always listens for an alert word, usually ‘Alexa’, but it can’t be used to listen to someone remotely.

Read on to find out if you can use your Alexa device to spy on someone else, as well as whether Alexa is capable of listening to you and recording your conversations.

Can You Use Alexa as a Spy Camera?

The Echo Show increases the functionality of a regular Echo or Echo Dot smart speaker by adding a built-in camera and a screen that comes in different widths.

can you use alexa to spy on someone article image - an image showing the amazon echo smart speaker range

©claudiocaridi/123RF.COM

You can use the camera to make video calls, check in on your home whilst you’re away and drop in on your other Alexa devices or contacts at the touch of a button.

As the name suggests, Alexa’s ‘drop in’ feature allows you to drop in on your contacts’ Alexa devices unannounced and vice versa.

Unlike Alexa-to-Alexa calls, drop-ins don’t need you to ‘answer’ by accepting or rejecting the call; the feature allows both video calls and voice calls to connect automatically.

Whilst this handy feature does have its perks, it does also cause some privacy concerns amongst Alexa device owners, especially for those with an Echo Show, which has a built-in camera.

Fortunately, Alexa will always announce when someone drops in on your device by making a distinct ringing noise and displaying a flashing green light.

Provided you are within hearing distance of any of your Alexa devices, you’ll know someone is dropping in, and so they won’t be able to spy on you without you knowing.

Having said that, there is a chance one of your approved drop-in contacts could spy on you via your Echo Show camera. If you happened to be out of the room when they dropped in, you’d miss the notification and could come back into the room unaware someone can watch you.

There are a few ways to avoid this situation from happening. For example, you should only allow trusted family members and close friends to drop in on your devices; that way, you can trust those people not to abuse the drop-in feature.

You could also temporarily prevent your camera from seeing anything by using the privacy slide switch to cover the lens.

You can curate your list of contacts that can drop in on your device via the ‘Communicate’ tab on the Alexa app. Choose which contacts you are willing to ‘allow’ to drop in on you, and in turn, they can do the same for you via their app.


Can You Listen to Someone Through Alexa?

The drop-in feature is also available to those Alexa devices which don’t have a camera feature, such as the Echo Dot, Echo Studio or Echo Plus. Using the built-in microphone, you can drop in and call other Alexa enabled devices and vice versa.

If a friend or family member selects you as one of their contacts who can drop in on their Alexa devices, you will then be able to ask your Alexa to drop in on them whenever you like.

Amazon never intended for the drop-in feature to be used as a way to eavesdrop on people you know. They did intend for it to be a quick and convenient way to communicate with friends and loved ones at the drop of a hat.

If you were to drop in on someone’s Alexa device, you’d be put through to them automatically, but their device will notify them first by ringing and flashing to make them aware you’re on the other end of the line.

It would be difficult for you to listen to someone else’s conversations via Alexa without them knowing; however, you shouldn’t rule out this possibility.

To avoid unwanted visitors listening to your conversations via your Alexa device, you can do one of the following:

  • Don’t give your contacts the ability to drop in on your devices by checking that that the function is disabled in the Alexa app.
  • Set your Alexa device to ‘Do Not Disturb’ to block anyone from dropping in at any given time.
  • Mute your device by pressing the ‘Microphone’ button to disable your Alexa device’s microphone temporarily.

Can You Listen in on Someone Using Alexa Guard?

Alexa Guard is a free feature that lets you turn your Amazon Echo device into a home security system. At the time of writing, it is currently only available to Echo users in the United States.

Alexa Guard uses an Echo device’s microphone to listen out for activity in your house while you’re not there, for example, the sound of a window breaking, footsteps, or when your smoke alarm is activated. If anything is detected, Alexa Guard automatically alerts your phone to warn you of any suspicious activity.

A premium subscription is also available, which provides access to a 24-hour emergency helpline.

A common concern surrounding Alexa Guard is that it could be used as a listening device, for example, to listen in on a spouse or family member while you’re out of the house.

Listening in using Alexa Guard is not possible, however. The extent of this service is to provide an alert when the Echo device detects a sound; it isn’t possible to remotely hear what Alexa is listening to.


Can I Listen in on Alexa From My Phone?

As well as using an Alexa device such as an Echo smart speaker to drop in on other Alexa enabled devices, you can also access the drop-in feature via the Alexa app.

The Alexa app is the control centre for all your Alexa devices and where you would head to whenever you want to manage your device or account settings.

an image of the amazon alexa smartphone app icon

©opturadesign/123RF.COM

You can drop in on your own Alexa devices or one of your contacts’ devices from the app by selecting the ‘Conversations’ icon from the home screen and tapping ‘Drop In’, which will show you a list of all your Echo devices and Alexa contacts that have chosen to allow you to drop in on them.

Choose the contact or Alexa device you’d like to drop in on, and you’ll be connected within a few seconds.


Can Alexa Record Conversations in a Room?

As you probably already know, Alexa is a voice-activated device. She has a designated wake word, such as ‘Alexa’, ‘Amazon’, ‘Echo’ or ‘Computer’ that she will constantly be listening out for.

As soon as you say your Alexa’s wake word, the device will begin recording your request so it can retrieve an answer from the cloud server.

The device will save these recordings within your Alexa account, which you can access via the Alexa app.

How to Access Your Alexa Voice Logs

  1. Open the Alexa app.
  2. Tap the ‘More’ icon on the home screen.
  3. Scroll down and select ‘Activity’.
  4. Tap ‘Voice History’.
  5. Here you’ll be able to filter all of your interactions with Alexa by date and device.

You can opt-out of this feature and stop Alexa from uploading your interactions by changing the settings within your app.

How to Stop Alexa From Saving Conversations

  1. Open the Alexa app.
  2. Tap the ‘More’ icon on the home screen.
  3. Scroll down and select ‘Settings’.
  4. Tap ‘Alexa Privacy’ and then select ‘Manage Your Alexa Data’.
  5. Here you can choose how long your recordings are stored for or opt-out of it altogether by selecting ‘Don’t save recordings’.

It is worth noting that Alexa will only start recording when she hears the wake word and won’t just be recording your conversations throughout the day.

Each recording will only last as long as each request or enquiry, for example, ‘Alexa, what’s the weather forecast for today’.


Can Alexa Drop In Silently?

No, you can’t drop in on another Alexa device silently.

If you were to request to drop in via Alexa, the device you’re dropping in on would make a distinct ringing noise before connecting you through to the call.


Is Alexa Always Listening?

As mentioned previously, the microphone in an Alexa-enabled smart speaker will always listen because the design needs to listen out for the designated wake word.

Since these Alexa-enabled smart speakers are voice-activated, it makes sense for them to constantly scan the audio in a room to allow them to wake up when commanded.

If you ever don’t want your Alexa listening in, you can turn off your device’s microphone by pressing the ‘Microphone’ button on your Echo device, as shown below.

can you use alexa to spy on someone article image - image showing the microphone button on an amazon echo device

You’ll need to press the button again to turn the microphone back on whenever you’re ready for Alexa to start listening out for a command, though.


In Summary

Technically speaking, you could use Alexa to spy on someone by using the drop-in feature to listen to their conversations.

You can’t drop in on another Alexa device silently or conspicuously, though, because the device will play a ringtone first, which the recipient will more than likely be able to hear.

Also, your friends or relatives have to enable you as one of their drop-in contacts before you can access the feature, so it’s not like you can go and drop in on just anyone.

Amazon developed the drop-in feature for close friends and relatives to get in touch with one another quickly. If you have privacy concerns with this particular feature, however, you can manage all your account settings within the Alexa app to suit your specific requirements.

To summarize other potential concerns, you can’t listen in on an Echo device or view the camera feed if it has a built-in camera, and you cannot ask it to record any audio or video remotely. Because of this, there is no legitimate way besides hacking to use Alexa to spy on someone.


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