Digital Assistants, Data Collection and Your Privacy

July 2018

As the popularity of digital assistants and social media sites such as Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, Amazon, Google, and Facebook continues to grow, it’s important to take the time and understand what happens with the information you are sharing. Though these services have their differences, each of them shares the common feature of saving the information about ourselves that we provide. Depending on the service, the information can include what we've searched for, what we've bought, what we've shared, what sites we've visited, where we've been, photos, documents, and much more. In some cases, we have chosen to provide or store this information, but there are instances where information has been collected without our explicit permission.

Each of these services provide ways that you can see and manage your information. For every device or service you use, you will want to review all of the privacy and security settings. You will want to avoid accepting the default settings without understanding what they means, as they, typically, are not the best choice for you and your information.

While this task can be time consuming, reviewing and changing the settings will help you protect your information. Spread the task out over several days or weeks, and use the following services to make sure everything is protected.

Amazon and Alexa

Amazon provides an Alexa App to manage the settings and control various features on your Alexa devices. Controls such as voice purchasing can be turned on or off along with adding a voice code. It’s important to note that every interaction with Alexa is recorded. You do have the option to delete individual recordings through the app, or multiple recordings . through your Amazon account.

To manage your Alexa recordings through your Amazon account, navigate to the Accounts & Lists drop down menu and choose Your Content and Devices. Then under Devices, select the appropriate Alexa device and choose Manage Voice Recordings. If you have a "wish list" you may want to make it private, along with your browsing history. In order to do this, choose Manage History located under Browsing History. You can turn it on or off, or remove all or selected items. Additionally, it is encouraged that you review various settings under your account, such as advertising preferences, to help ensure that all of your data and information is safe.


Facebook has made it easier to access your privacy and security controls . If you are logged onto Facebook in a browser, simply click the question mark icon located in the top right corner of the page and select Privacy Shortcuts. On that page you can manage your privacy and account security settings, manage your ad preferences and your Facebook information. Some of the settings you may want to review are who can see your friends list, who can see the people, pages, and lists you follow, the posts you're tagged in, and whether or not you are allowing Facebook to recognize you in photos and videos.

Facebook is also rolling out an update to its mobile app. This update will put all the privacy controls on a single page instead of being spread out in many places. Therefore, you may want to review all of these privacy options as well.

Google and Google Assistant

Google provides an account management site,which can be found under personal info and privacy, that allows you to do a privacy checkup to review and change what data Google uses. You can also review your activity and use the activity controls to pause (turn off) collecting the data from web & app activity, location history, device information which includes contacts, calendars, apps, voice & audio activity, YouTube search history, and YouTube watch history. You may also want to consider doing a security checkup and managing your ad settings.

The Google Assistant can be installed on many devices and the settings location varies. You can delete specific activities on your device or in your Google Account, as well as, delete all the activity at once on the Assistant Activity page in your Google Account. There are other settings that you may want to review and change, such as how it's activated or to strengthen security.

Microsoft and Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft's digital assistant. It is a component in Windows 10 and can be added to other devices. Since Cortana is an integral part of Windows, it can't be turned entirely off but you can turn off various settings and reduce the amount of information that it saves. To change settings go to Windows settings and choose Cortana to review and make changes. You may also want to review the privacy settings, on your phone, computer, or tablet to ensure that only the data you specify is collected.

If you have a Microsoft account, you can control your privacy and security preferences and clear collected data from the account management page. To control your settings you will need to login to review your information and make any changes.

What other services and websites do you use?

A lot of services and sites collect or store information about you. For every service and site you use, you will need to find the settings no matter what they might be called. Look for account settings, security & privacy settings, feature settings, or controls, and review them and make the appropriate changes.


Privacy and security options can change with and without notice, so it’s important to get in the habit of reviewing your privacy and security setting by scheduling some time every week or two.



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