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Google needs to copy Alexa's ability to delete voice recordings

Google should borrow Amazon's new feature and expand its functionality.

Published onMay 29, 2019

Echo Show 5 camera slider

Having voice assistants built into smart speakers and smart displays can be daunting. To enjoy the convenience of asking the Assistant or Alexa questions at any given moment, you must have always-listening microphones around you at all times. While Google and Amazon promise that the devices only listen for its hotwords, both platforms start recording every time the speakers or displays hears (or think they hear) “Okay Google” or “Alexa.”

Both companies allow customers to go in and delete these recordings through a web interface, but that is far from convenient. Amazon is stepping it up now by enabling users to ask their Echos to delete records from the last day. There are shortcomings to the newly-announced feature, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Google needs to steal this feature from Amazon and expand past where Alexa falls flat.

Where Alexa falls short

Amazon Echo Show 2

There are two significant flaws in Amazon’s current implementation. First, you can only ask your Amazon Echos to delete any records made “today.” At first, you might think this would wipe everything on Amazon’s servers from the last 24 hours. Sadly, that’s not how it works.

When you state, “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” it removes all recordings from that calendar day. If you asked for everything to be wiped from that day, it starts at midnight instead of the last 24 hours. So if you forget to delete your recordings at 11:50 p.m. via Alexa, you’ll have to log into Amazon’s web presence to remove older data.

Hey Google, is the government spying on me?
Pictured is the Google Home Mini in the coral color.

The second issue is that Amazon doesn’t provide any extra lengths of time to delete voice recordings through Alexa. I want the choice to wipe my records on a weekly, monthly, or even yearly basis. This limitation is disappointing.

Amazon did announce that it is working on adding the ability to ask Alexa to delete the previous recording immediately. Amazon didn’t provide a release period, but it did launch a new privacy hub so customers can learn more about the controls they have over their data.

How Google can improve

Google Pixel 3a Purple-ish Assistant

Google focused heavily on privacy at this year’s I/O developer conference. One of the changes the company promised to make was to be more transparent.

The search giant has been clear that it only stores the recordings to help train the Assistant. The company has also been upfront that customers can visit My Activity and manually delete recordings. If you’ve ever tried to do this, you know it isn’t an easy process.

Google Home privacy - What the company and you can do to secure your information
Photograph of Google Home Hub, Home Mini, and Home side by side

If Google wants the Assistant to best Alexa in terms of privacy, it needs to copy Amazon’s new feature. As I hinted previously, Google will need to take it up a step and offer more options for removing voice recordings. This could include simple steps such as longer periods than a day and the ability to stop recordings before they’re even made.

Do you think Google and Amazon should be storing your voice recordings? What else should Google do to step up its privacy game? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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