New Amazon feature lets users tell Alexa to delete recent voice recordings and commands

(GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Amazon is stepping up its privacy options for its voice assistant and digital brain Alexa, as tech giants look to give users more control over data to assuage widespread privacy concerns.

The company today announced new ways for Alexa users to delete recordings of voice commands they’ve made on Echo speakers and other devices that use the digital assistant. Amazon says new commands like “Alexa, delete everything I said today” and future options like “Alexa, delete what I just said,” will allow users to erase records of recent interactions with the voice assistant.

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In addition to those voice-based privacy controls, a new Alexa Privacy Hub gives users a central place on the web to manage settings and privacy, including the ability to erase all voice recordings and commands for specific time periods or all of a user’s history.

Prior to today’s announcement’s Amazon did offer options to delete records of voice commands via the Alexa app. But the ability to do it with a simple voice command is meant to make it easier for people to control their personal data.

The new privacy features were unveiled as part of the announcement of the latest Echo Show device, which also includes a built-in shutter to cover the camera.

The tech industry is facing a backlash from consumers and regulators, with privacy among the chief concerns, and leaders in the market want to assure everyone that they’re listening, and not in a Big Brother sort of way. Companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Google have all talked up privacy at developer conferences this spring.

Microsoft and Apple have long positioned themselves as privacy good guys, and they’re increasingly using that reputation as a reason for businesses and consumers to use their services. Google and Facebook have found themselves in the middle of privacy issues due to their heavy dependence on digital advertising as a business model.

Amazon doesn’t have anything close to a Cambridge Analytica-level scandal in its history, but between its market-leading smart speaker devices that collect recordings of millions of voice commands and its growing advertising business, the potential for privacy issues has risen in recent years.

The new features follow recent revelations about how Amazon’s voice assistant works behind the scenes. Amazon confirmed last month that it has teams of humans reviewing some of the millions of utterances people make to their smart speakers. However, Amazon said at the time that these teams primarily exist to make Alexa smarter, and they annotate a small percentage of clips to strengthen Alexa’s ability to recognize speech and understand commands.

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