To do: Change your smart speaker settings before the holidays

Nov 26, 2023, 5:00 AM

When we have friends and family with kids over, voice assistants can become a favorite attraction. At best, someone will start another “Baby Shark” round, and you’ll sing it for a week.

But what if one of those curious kiddos buys toys with your Amazon Echo? Or maybe your niece, Alexis, will have the Echo going haywire.

That’s why it’s worth changing a few settings to make your voice assistants safer when guests come knocking. Do it now before the holiday rush!

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Keep kids from shopping on voice assistants

Tech-adventurous toddlers can order things with voice commands before anyone can stop them. That’s a massive pain in the wallet and can take lots of service calls to untangle … and yes, it’s more likely to happen around the holidays.

Frankly, I’m more comfortable turning voice purchasing off unless it’s on something private like my phone. Since Amazon is a big culprit here, it’s a good thing you can prevent Alexa from going on a shopping spree.

● Open the Alexa app, select More > Settings, then go to Account Settings.
● Here, you can find the Voice Purchasing menu, where you can turn voice purchasing capabilities off entirely.
● You can also set up codes to use voice purchasing, but only if you know the passcode.

Google Assistant lets you do something similar to the Payments section in your account. Voice payments aren’t on by default, but you can turn them off here if you’ve set them up before.

Know your mute buttons

Manufacturers include physical mute buttons on every voice assistant device because they care about our privacy. No, they just do it so they can say they care.

When you have guests and it looks like over-indulgence in voice commands (and/or cocktails) could be a problem, tap mute to stop any commands. Look for the crossed-out speaker icon. For displays, an accompanying switch flips the camera off, too … just in case.

Set up parental controls

From explicit radio shows to downright adult content, there are probably a few things you don’t want voice assistants to search for when guests are around (or considering past privacy issues, ever). I have a few parental blocks that prevent this, no matter how naughty or rambunctious people get.

Google Assistant has some of the best options, with an Assistant Parental Controls section for each child user, although this won’t affect new users.

Google Home has several app content filters in the Digital Wellbeing section, where you can add filters to specific devices to block unwelcome content.

If you use Alexa, open the app, select More and head to Settings. In the Music & Podcasts settings, you can find an Explicit Language Filter to enable.

Change your wake word to limit guest use

It’s understandable if you don’t want just anyone using your voice assistants, especially if you have personalized options — or it’s just too annoying.

One thing you could do is change the wake word. Bad news: You can’t do this with Siri or Google. Well, there are reports that Google Assistant responds to, “Hey, boobies” (really), but that’s probably not what you had in mind. If you use Apple or Google smart home gear, stick with mute.

If you use Alexa, you can change to another recognized wake word.

● Go to your Device in the Alexa app and select the settings icon in the upper right.
● Tap Wake Word and switch it to something more unique than Alexa. Options include Amazon, Computer, Echo and Ziggy. This time of year, Santa is an option, too.

For more info to help the privacy-conscious, I’ve got some tips on changing privacy settings to avoid being tracked during the holidays.

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To do: Change your smart speaker settings before the holidays