Consumer advice: Alexa, please forget everything I’ve said

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Many consumers wonder how much of their data is being collected by Alexa — and for what purpose.

In February we explored the topic “Alexa, are you spying on me?” If you remember that segment, then you remember the answer was, “I only send audio back to Amazon when you activate me. For more information, view Amazon’s privacy notice.”

In doing more research, there is a way to hear and then delete everything your device has recorded. But first, let’s see why Amazon is recording us.

When asked if humans are listening in to recordings and conversations picked up by Alexa, Amazon, in its lists of frequently asked questions, states: “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.”

That’s followed by the claim that they take the security and privacy of customers’ personal information seriously. It goes on to state that they only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience. It all sounds innocuous if you don’t think about it too hard.

But what are they listening to? If you want to know exactly what Alexa has been recording in your home, go to your Alexa app and click on Settings. Then select Alexa Account, next select Alexa Privacy and finally select Review Voice History. From there you can use the pulldown menu to select the date range you want to review.

You can delete a date range or your entire history. To delete all you might have to visit “Manage Your Content and Devices” page at Amazon.com then click on the Devices tab, selecting an Alexa-enabled product and clicking Device Actions to find the Delete All Recordings option. Another option is to contact Amazon customer service and have them delete your recordings.

What does Amazon say about you exercising your right to delete your voice recordings? They say, “This could degrade your Alexa experience.” Bottom line: It’s up to you to protect your privacy.

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AIRLINES AND BEREAVEMENT: When an immediate family member dies, a few airlines still offer bereavement fares that allow for flexibility with travel plans during this difficult time. It’s worth noting that the fares offered may not necessarily be the lowest price, but they do allow for changes to plans without additional fees.

The airlines that still offer bereavement fares include Air Canada, Alaska Air, Delta, Lufthansa and WestJet. Unfortunately, other popular airlines like American, Southwest, Frontier and United do not offer bereavement fares. However, if bereavement causes you to miss a flight, these airlines might refund a non-refundable ticket for a fee so it’s worth checking out.

One thing to keep in mind if you call one of the airlines about a bereavement fare is they will ask you for information. The information may include deceased person’s name, your relationship to the deceased, name and phone number of funeral home, hospital or hospice, and the name of the attending doctor, if applicable.

Another thing to know is each airline could define “immediate family” differently, and each has defined timelines for travel after the death of a relative so it’s a good idea to ask the airline what their bereavement policy is before booking your flight.

If worrying about getting this qualifying information is too troublesome, other alternatives include using your frequent flyer miles or checking out last-minute travel deals on www.hotwire.com or www.priceline.com.

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BEWARE 876 CALLS: If you receive a call from an 876 area code, it’s not a toll-free U.S. number. It’s a Jamaican area code.

Toll-free area codes in the U.S. include 800, 877, 866, 855, 844 or 833. Unless you have a personal or business connection in Jamaica, there’s a high likelihood the call is from a scammer.

After the Publisher’s Clearing House segment came out on May 16, a reader called to say she had just received a call from 876, claiming she had won a sweepstakes, so the warning was timely.

Of course, they asked for money up front in order to release her $2.6 million prize. She didn’t fall for it but was amused by the timing of the article. There are reportedly about 30,000 calls a day made from Jamaica to the United States attempting to defraud American citizens.

These callers are quite convincing. They’ll get you to believe that the representative is in your area, just waiting around the corner, and once payment is received they will bring you your money. They usually request money be sent by wire from Western Union or Green Dot Card, so once sent it is long gone. If you get a call from area code 876 and don’t know anyone in Jamaica, don’t pick it up.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m a full-time copywriter working with businesses on market messaging, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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