Amazon Echo: 6 Alexa Features You Won’t Regret Turning Off

This story is part of Home TipsCNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

Alexa has been around since 2014 and while the voice assistant started as a handy way to automate your day, it’s only gotten smarter and more essential over the years. The addition of hidden perksAlexa’s third-party skills and routines can improve your experience even more. It’s no wonder Alexa has become a fixture in many homes with all of the useful commands and skills it offers.

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But for all the cool new gameshidden Easter eggs and smart home integrationsthere are also features that make Alexa not so smart. Yes, turning off certain features can actually 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.

Read more: The Real Cost of Setting Up an Amazon Alexa Smart Home

1. Turn off Drop In on your Amazon Echo

Alexa’s Drop In feature is a cool way for friends or family to connect when unable to get together in person, for example, over the holidays with ongoing travel restrictions. 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. Here’s how.

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

An Amazon Echo show on a kitchen counter with a coffee maker

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

2. Turn off Hunches on your Amazon Echo

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 timersbut 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, open the Alexa app and tap Morethen Settingsthen Hunches. A simple toggle controls the feature.

You can turn off Hunches using this method in the Alexa app, or by voice. Simply say, “Disable Hunches.”

3. Prevent Amazon from listening to your voice recordings

Frustratingly, Amazon still seems by default to opt users into its program using 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.

In the Alexa app, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data. From here, select Choose How Long to Save Recordings > Don’t Save Recordings > Confirm. Next, scroll down to Help Improve Alexaand switch the Use of Voice Recordings to 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.

Read more: Keep Amazon, Google and Apple Out of Your Conversations: A Guide to Protect Your Privacy

4. Manage Skill permissions on your Amazon Echo

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 > Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Skill Permissions. From here, you can choose the data type you want to access and then toggle each skill on or off.

An Echo Show 15 mounted on a wall

Alexa is all over your house, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have privacy.


5. Disable the camera on your Echo Show

This is a really simple one, but it’s easy to forget. If you use an Echo Show ($150 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.

6. Turn on Brief Mode on your Amazon Echo

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, open the Alexa app, tap More > Settings > 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 you think mine are wrong.

More Alexa must-reads

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