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Do smart devices constantly listen to you?

Smart devices can enhance your life in numerous ways. Still, some people feel they listen in on their private conversations. Most smart devices have built-in microphones, so it isn’t just paranoia that leads people to believe they’re being spied on. To learn more about how smart devices work and whether they always listen, we sat down with our tech expert, Jaime Vazquez.

Everything you need to know about smart device privacy

Do smart devices listen all the time?

It is fair to say that smart devices listen 100% of the time. Still, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean they record 100% of the time. 

Many smart devices have an indicator, such as a light, that lets you know when they’re recording. These devices have microphones programmed to listen for specific wake words. For example, most Echo devices listen for the word “Alexa.” 

A smart speaker starts recording when it hears its wake word. Once the device finishes recording your command, it sends the order to a server that processes your request and stops recording.

Is there anything you can do to stop your smart device from listening?

Although your smart speaker doesn’t record everything you say, it is natural to want to prevent it from listening throughout the day. 

When asked how you can stop your devices from listening, Vazquez said, “They all have controls that let you set availability schedules. For example, you can set the Echo Kid’s Edition to stop listening to commands after a specific time of day. If you know someone named Alex or Alexa, it may be worth updating the wake word on your Echo devices. If you really want to take control of your devices, you might consider plugging them into smart plugs so you can easily turn them off when you aren’t using them.”

Which smart devices have the best privacy track record?

When shopping for a smart device, it’s worth considering which brand has the best history of protecting its customers’ privacy. Per Vazquez, “Apple has the best privacy track record overall, followed by Google and Amazon. That said, I would rank Amazon as the most proactive about privacy. They really got their privacy act together in 2020 and rolled out a framework that gave users a ton of control over their privacy. Now, Alexa sets the standard for the level of control you should have.”

Do smart devices with cameras watch you throughout the day?

Most camera-equipped smart devices only record video when you activate a feature that requires it. Amazon’s Echo Show devices have a built-in camera cover you can use when you don’t want it to record.

If you have a smart device that doesn’t have a built-in camera cover, you can typically buy one for less than $20.

Other privacy tips to consider

  • Think about your smart device’s location: You likely don’t need a smart speaker in every room. Try using your device’s wake word in an adjacent room to test the distance it can hear and record. Additionally, it may be worth leaving them out of your home office if you’re worried about them recording you while you work.
  • Explore privacy controls: All smart devices have privacy settings. After you’ve set your device up, take a minute to explore its settings and ensure you’re comfortable with the level of privacy it offers.
  • Unplug them when you don’t need them: If you mainly use your voice assistant on the weekends, it may be worth unplugging throughout the week. You aren’t likely to need them when you’re on vacation, so they can be left unplugged until you get back.
  • Let your guests know you have smart devices: People may have different levels of comfortability with smart speakers. When you have a guest over for the first time, it may be worth turning them off or letting your guests know.
  • Request your data from the manufacturer: Apple, Amazon and Google allow you to request an email containing all the data they have collected about you, including data from smart devices.

Smart device privacy products our expert recommends

Best Kasa Smart Plug Power Strip

Kasa Smart Plug Power Strip

This option lets you turn devices on and off from your phone. You can use it to shut your smart devices down when you aren’t using them. It has three smart outlets and two USB ports. Many were impressed with how easy it is to set up.

Sold by Amazon

Best Metal Magnetic Sliding Web Camera Cover

Metal Magnetic Sliding Web Camera Cover

Smart devices aren’t the only machines that can record you. It’s worth buying a cover for your webcam if you’re concerned about your privacy. This pack of covers is made of durable metal and uses magnets to keep the slide in place.

Sold by Amazon

Best Amazon Echo Show 5

Amazon Echo Show 5

This top-notch smart device can be used to watch TV, set calendar updates and manage routines. It has a built-in camera cover, and you can turn the microphone off with the click of a button.

Sold by Amazon

Best Logitech C920e HD 1080p Mic-Enabled Webcam

Logitech C920e HD 1080p Mic-Enabled Webcam

This affordable webcam has a built-in cover for your privacy. The camera automatically zooms in, so your face is centered in the frame. It is surprisingly easy to set up. Many were impressed with the picture quality.

Sold by Amazon and Dell

Best TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug With Energy Monitoring

TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug With Energy Monitoring

This handy plug is ideal for turning your smart devices off easily. It monitors your energy usage and lets you set schedules to lower your bills. It is compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Microsoft Cortana. Many people said they loved how intuitive it was.

Sold by Amazon

Best Amazon Echo 4th Gen

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

This features numerous privacy controls, including a button that deactivates the microphone. It is compact and easy to use. It sounds surprisingly good. This is available in blue, black and white.

Sold by Amazon

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Cody Stewart writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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