Al Franken joined the cast of “What the Hack with Adam Levin” earlier this week to revisit an idea he had a few years back. The weekly show focuses on privacy and cybercrime by inviting guests to share their stories about scams, identity theft and cybercrime.
Some things are worth waiting for
Soon after Al Franken was sworn in as a Senator, his counsel, current FTC commissioner Alvaro Bedoya, had the idea of creating a Judiciary subcommittee focused on privacy, technology and the law. It came to pass, and Franken was the first chair.
After the Democrats lost control of the Senate in 2014, Franken had an idea. “It occurred to me that Alexa and Siri were probably a threat to people’s privacy, so as ranking member Franken approached Jeff Flake who chaired the subcommittee. “Why don’t we do a hearing with Alexa and Siri—have the devices there, and we’ll write it, and we’ll just stage it and just have a hearing as if they were there.” Flake declined.
Fast forward a few years, Franken has a weekly podcast and is back to his roots in stand-up comedy performing “The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour,” around the country. He recently collaborated with Adam Levin to make the mock hearing happen as an illustration of privacy issues consumers need to think about on Levin’s eponymous show, “What the Hack with Adam Levin.”
Privacy on digital assistants is now more than ever an issue for consumers, but there is some good news hidden deep in the settings of the devices that currently occupy more than 120 million households. Amazon, Apple and Google can all be set in a privacy-first way. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
The privacy settings for Alexa can be configured through Amazon’s smartphone app. Click the “more” button (typically on the lower left corner of your screen), go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.
Disable “Help Improve Amazon Services and Develop New Features” and “Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions.” Amazon will receive less data about how you use Alexa.
Google Home’s privacy settings are also controlled through an app, but the process is different. From the app, go to Account > More Settings > Your Data in the Assistant > Voice and Audio Activity. From there, turn off voice and audio recordings.
Apple markets itself as a privacy champion, but the company is not clear about what data it collects from Siri about its users. If this bothers you (and it should) disable it entirely.
Using an iOS device, go to Settings > Siri and Search. Disable the options for “Listen for Hey Siri” and “Press Side Button for Siri.” Then go to Settings > General > Keyboard and toggle “Enable Dictation.”
If you’re using a desktop or laptop MacOS device, go to System Preferences > Siri and disable “Enable Ask Siri.”
Digital assistants can make everyday tasks a lot simpler, but as Al Franken noted nearly a decade ago, this convenience comes at the cost of privacy. While it’s nearly impossible to guarantee total privacy in the Digital Age, disabling some of the more intrusive data collection features can help add an extra level of protection.