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Amazon Alexa gets new privacy controls, and will tell you what it's hearing

Amazon Echo with Alexa
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Alexa is getting two new voice commands that will give you more control over your privacy. At its device launch event in Seattle, Washington, Amazon announced that it's adding two new voice commands to its virtual assistant: "Alexa, tell me what you just heard," and "Alexa, why did you do that?"

This could be eye-opening for anyone who wonders exactly how sensitive their Amazon Echo device is, or what prompted it to perform an unexpected task like playing a piece of music. Amazon says the 'what' command will be available immediately, with the 'why' option arriving later this year.

Privacy has been a big talking point for Amazon in 2019. Earlier in the year it added voice commands that let you delete the last thing you said, or everything you've said during the whole day, and you'll soon be able to have all your data deleted automatically if you opt in.

Putting you in control

Amazon promises that users will also be able to choose their individual privacy settings "with fine granularity".

This focus on privacy comes as no surprise; Amazon (along with Google and Apple) is one of the tech giants that's come under fire in recent months for their use – or misuse – of customers' recorded voice commands.

All three companies employed human transcribers to listen to recorded snippets and transcribe them to improve the accuracy of their software, but it was felt that users weren't made sufficiently aware that other people may be listening to what they say in the their own homes.

The ability to find out exactly how much your smart speaker can hear, and decide how that information is used, is a welcome addition, and the extra transparency should go some way towards restoring users' confidence in Alexa.