Home assistants such as Alexa and Google Assistant are becoming ubiquitous, and as that happens, more and more users are discovering how much of their data is actually being collected by these handy items. The Washington Post’s Geoffrey A. Fowler was so taken aback by the amount of audio material that Amazon collected that he actually made a song out of his clips.
If all this makes you uneasy, you can delete the recordings already made by Alexa and Google Assistant — but of the two, only Google Assistant lets you pause the process so that your voice won’t be recorded in the first place. Here’s how to do it.
Note: These steps assume you are using a web browser. If you want to do it on a mobile device, you still need to do it via the mobile browser, so the process is nearly identical.
Go to Google’s My Activity page
Click on the three-line “hamburger” icon on the top left of the page to get the pull-out menu
Click on “Activity Controls”
Scroll down to “Voice & Audio Activity.” You will see a blue toggle which will, in all probability, be set to on. Toggle it off.
You will get a pop-up message warning you of the dire consequences of pausing the recordings, such as not being recognized by your faithful Assistant companion. Still want to stop the recording? Toggle it off.
If you change your mind, just go back to the same place and toggle it back on.
After reading Google’s warning screen, I was curious about what would happen if I paused my recording — would Google Assistant really no longer recognize me? So before I hit the toggle, I went to Assistant on my phone and said, “Hi, Google, this is a test.” I got the answer “You’re coming in loud and clear.”
Then I toggled “Voice and Audio Activity” to pause, and said, “Hi, Google, this is the second test.” In this case, I didn’t get a friendly reply — instead, I got a list of videos in which the term “2nd test” appeared in the description. So it did make a difference.
Something else to keep in mind: when you pause voice and audio, you are not pausing any other activity. For example, after I finished the two tests above, I went back to the My Activity page, which keeps track of everything you do with Google. (Check it out; it’s both fascinating and a bit frightening.) I found both “Hi, Google, this is a test” and “Hi, Google, this is the second test” listed there; the only difference was that the former included a voice recording.
So it’s up to you. One compromise is to allow your Google Assistant to continue to record, and simply wipe the existing recordings on a regular basis. This won’t, of course, completely assure you that your voice isn’t being held on some server somewhere. But it’s a start.
Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.