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Amazon adds delete commands for Alexa

The retail giant updates its voice-activated speakers, giving users the ability to erase recordings with a spoken request

Amazon Echos are displayed at the Amazon Books store in Georgetown in March 2018. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
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Amazon is making it easier for users of its Echo devices to delete recordings of their voices, as consumer and regulatory privacy concerns regarding artificial-intelligence assistants mount.

The retail giant said Wednesday it tweaked its Alexa voice software to give consumers the ability to use voice commands to delete recordings of what they’ve said throughout the day. The company previously provided tools in the Alexa app and on its website to erase those recordings.

The change to make deleting recordings easier comes with criticism of Amazon and other smart-speaker manufacturers escalating in recent months as consumers purchase more of the devices and integrate them into their homes. Earlier this month, a coalition of 19 consumer groups accused Amazon of illegally collecting voice recordings and other identifying information on users under 13 with its Echo Dot Kids Edition.

Alexa has been eavesdropping on you this whole time

Some legislators are also taking action. The California State Assembly is working on a bill that would require smart-speaker makers to get consumer permission to save recordings of commands or conversations. The Illinois Senate recently passed a bill on the same issue, and other legislators have eyed the issue.

Alexa and Apple’s Siri by default keep recordings of everything said after they hear their “wake” words, to help train their artificial intelligences. Google’s Assistant recently changed its default to not record what it hears after its prompt, “Hey, Google.”

(Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

While the devices are supposed to record only after they hear their name, sometimes they turn on accidentally and record things not intended for the device. That happened last year, when a family in Portland, Ore., found its Echo had recorded a private conversation and sent it to a random contact. Amazon said at the time that the device misheard commands that led it to send the recording.

Hey Alexa, come clean about how much you’re really recording us

Amazon’s new feature, available starting Wednesday, lets users remove the day’s recordings by saying, “Alexa, delete everything I said today.” The company said it will also soon give customers the ability to erase their last request to the device by saying, “Alexa, delete what I just said.”

Amazon said that it introduced the voice commands to allow customers easier control over their privacy.