Be Careful, Little Ears, What You Hear - Word&Way

Be Careful, Little Ears, What You Hear

mouth and ear

You never know what a child will pick up from listening to adult conversations, television, and possibly the way you talk to other drivers while behind the wheel. But lately, other little ears have been in the news, courtesy of handy home and mobile devices:

Ken Satterfield

Ken Satterfield

A woman startled to hear her Google Home Mini announce an alarm for “cocaine and reefer” only to find it was prompted by a pastor on television (

A different minister in Oklahoma City triggered Alexa to order $28 of toilet paper in a member’s home while she listened to their online streaming service (

The UK defense minister, interrupted during a Parliament speech about ISIS by Siri who noted finding something interesting on the web about Syria (

The whistleblower at Apple revealing that Siri could be activated by the sound of a zipper, allowing contractors to hear, among other things, doctor-patient discussions, possible criminal activity, and (for some reason) business deals, which could be linked to location user data (

In the name of improving artificial intelligence, Google, Amazon, and Apple have used contractors and kept recordings. Nope, nothing creepy at all about that. While some policy changes have been made, you can take these steps to protect your privacy (explained in more detail at

Amazon Alexa: Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler accessed his recordings and turned them into a song (see previous link), although you won’t be tapping your toes.

mouth and ear

Image by Thomas Wolter from Pixabay

See what Alexa has recorded by opening the Amazon Alexa app (or the Amazon site:, click the menu icon and navigate to Settings > Alexa Privacy to review your history on Amazon devices and delete all or part of your history. Under Review Voice History you can enable voice deletion; at “Manage how your data…” you can turn off the two sliders to opt out of future recordings.

Google Assistant: Use the Google activity page ( to change recording and tracking settings. Go to Voice & Audio Activity and turn off the slider; Manage Activity can show your history.

Other Google activity under on activity page shows search history, while Activity controls tracks your phone’s location.

Apple Siri: You cannot currently access or delete recordings; an opt-out feature is promised in a future update. For now it takes turning off both Siri and voice dictation to delete your data and recordings. Siri also tracks location at Settings > Privacy > Location Services > System Services > Significant Locations (

God knows all we do (Job 34:21), but Big Tech doesn’t have to come in second.

Ken Satterfield is a former media specialist and current marketing director for Word&Way. 

See also:

The Verge Guide to Privacy and Security (The Verge)

Change These Facebook Settings to Make Your Audio Recordings More Private (Lifehacker)

Voice-Activated Assistants Can Hear Messages Hidden in Songs and Commercials (Mental Floss)