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Using a voice assistant without ‘always listening’



Smart speaker sitting on a table with a person in the background.
David Ferencik / Shutterstock.com

Voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are a convenient way to control smart home devices, set timers, hear the weather, and perform other common tasks. But if you don̵

7;t like the ‘always listening’ part, you can avoid it.

What we mean when we say ‘always listen’

Smart speakers (and mobile devices, if they have features like ‘Hey Siri’ or ‘Hey Google’ enabled) don’t always ‘listen’ as you might think. They always listen to the voice command that activates them. However, they don’t always include you. They only record and upload audio when they hear that voice command.

Of course, they sometimes don’t hear the voice command properly. A smart speaker, smartphone, or smartwatch might think it hears “Hey Siri,” “Hey Google,” or “Alexa” and start listening and uploading something you really didn’t intend to hear. That audio can then be listened to by a human for quality assurance reasons unless you change your privacy settings to prevent employees and contractors from listening to your recordings.

RELATED: Is my smart speaker always listening to me?

Press any button to activate the assistant

If you don’t like the sound of this, but like the convenience of voice assistants, there is an alternative: activate the assistant by pressing and holding a button instead of using a voice command.

Here’s how this works on common devices:

  • iPhone: Press the side button and immediately start talking to Siri. On an iPhone with a Home button, press the Home button and immediately start speaking.
  • iPad: Press the Home button and start speaking immediately. On iPads without a Home button, press the Top button and start speaking immediately.
  • Apple Watch: Press the Digital Crown on the side of the watch and immediately start speaking.
  • Android: Long press the Home button to launch Google Assistant. (This may vary by device.)
  • Windows 10: Click the “Cortana” button to the right of the search box on the left side of the taskbar.
  • Mac: Click the “Siri” button to the left of the clock in the top right corner of your Mac’s screen.

Whenever you want to talk to your voice assistant, just press the button and start talking.

If you find this convenient enough, you can disable the voice commands such as ‘Hey Siri’, ‘Hey Google’ and ‘Hey Cortana’ in your device’s settings. Now they only listen when you press a button.

What about smart speakers?

Using the mute button on an Amazon Echo.
Jason Fitzpatrick

Unfortunately, smart speakers don’t provide a way to disable their “always listen” feature and issue commands at the same time. It makes sense: are you really going to walk up to a smart speaker and hit a button every time you want to issue a command?

However, with smart speakers you can turn off their microphones to stop that always-listening feature. But you can’t talk to the smart speaker until you turn the microphone back on.

For example, suppose you use a smart speaker a lot while cooking. You can usually turn off the microphone and turn it on only during cooking. Or, let’s say you have guests who are uncomfortable with the smart speaker’s recording features – you could mute the microphone while they are visiting.

Look for a button or turn on your smart speaker that temporarily disables the forever listening feature. For example:

Now it is entirely up to you when your smart speaker listens, and you can easily operate it with a button or switch.

RELATED: How to mute the microphone of your Google Smart speaker or display




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