6 Alexa features you should turn off right now on your Amazon Echo

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Alexa is becoming a fixture in more homes than ever. But along with all the clever new features, a few are definitely worth disabling.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant are getting smarter all the time — plenty of hidden perks can improve your experience with them, and Alexa’s third-party skills add even more. But for all the cool new games and smart-home integrations, there are also features that make Alexa seem, well, less smart. Yes, turning off certain features can make using your Amazon Echo speakers and displays safer and better than before.

Whether you’re concerned about privacy, don’t want friends “dropping in” uninvited or just want Alexa to stop parroting your questions and commands back to you, here are six features you should disable in the Alexa app right now.

Drop In

Alexa’s Drop In feature is a cool way for, for example, friends to connect during continued COVID-19 lockdowns. Unlike a phone call, drop-ins don’t require you to “answer” the call: Your friend just speaks out of your device’s speaker. Sounds cool when you first use it, but it’s easy to forget that virtual visitors once permitted will then have access to drop in anytime, unannounced. Unless you want to risk friends or family members using the feature at inopportune times, you should switch off Drop In until you want to use it.

From the Alexa app, tap Devices, select which device you want, then tap Communications. From here, you can turn off Drop In or limit it to specific devices.

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It’s nice to virtually share a cup of coffee with a friend. Not so nice to have that friend “drop in” on you unexpectedly when you’re still in your pajamas.


Josh Miller/CNET

Hunches

Over the past two years, Amazon has very slowly been ramping up the use of Hunches — those follow-up questions Alexa asks you after you interact. Sometimes these suggestions are helpful, for instance offering to lock your door at night or suggesting a new way to use timers, but they can also be annoying and disruptive when you’re in the middle of a phone call and don’t want to have to tell your voice assistant to stop talking.

To switch off Hunches, tap More in the Alexa app, then Settings, then Hunches. A simple toggle controls the feature.

Use of your voice recordings

Frustratingly, Amazon still seems by default to opt users into its program using our voice recordings for research purposes. Whether, like me, you’re uncomfortable with the data-gathering potential of such a feature, or you don’t like the idea of a real person listening in on your daily interactions with (or potentially just in proximity to) your Echo device, turning this feature off is probably the best move.

To disable it, tap More in the Alexa app, then Settings, then Alexa Privacy. A separate page will open, where you can tap Manage Your Alexa Data. Scroll down and switch off Use of Voice Recordings. A pop-up will ask you to confirm the decision (Amazon seems to want you not to turn this off).

While you’re turning off this feature, you might also consider setting your voice recordings to automatically delete after three months — an option you can find on the same page as Use of Voice Recordings.

Skill permissions

While you’re looking at the Alexa Privacy page, another menu worth perusing is Manage Skill Permissions. Here you can scroll down to see which skills (Amazon’s word for apps and features) want access to everything from your street address and contact info to your Amazon Prime payment info. Many of these permissions default to off, but every once in a while, it’s a good idea to check which skills you’ve enabled over the months or years of using Alexa, and if they’ve gained one-time access that you don’t want them to keep forever.

To control these permissions, tap More, then Settings, then Alexa Privacy, then Manage Skill Permissions.

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The Echo Show 5 and Show 8 both feature physical shutters to block the camera.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Camera

This is a really simple one, but it’s easy to forget. If you use an Echo Show ($230 at Amazon) device, make sure your camera is disabled or covered when you aren’t using it. Hacking laptop cameras and other webcams is a notorious method of spying on people — one used by governments and individual hackers alike — and keeping your camera disabled is a simple way to protect yourself.

To disable your camera, simply use the physical toggle on each Echo Show device.

Turn on brief mode

OK, this isn’t technically turning off a feature, but in effect, Brief Mode “turns off” Alexa parroting your questions and commands back to you. It’s one of my personal favorite features, because Alexa’s parroting quickly gets on my nerves when I’m playing music (and I usually can tell it misinterpreted my command immediately, without hearing the voice confirm that).

To turn on Brief Mode, tap More, then Settings and then Voice Responses. From here, switch on Brief Mode (and also the useful Whisper Mode, if you so choose).

These are my favorite features to disable on Alexa-enabled devices, but what are yours? Share some of your picks in the comments, or let me know why mine are wrong.


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