If you're an Alexa user, chances are you use your Echo devices for just about everything, from checking the weather to playing music. Now, Amazon is slowly rolling out a new feature for the Amazon Echo that turns Alexa into your personal watchdog. Alexa Guard, Amazon's Echo security feature is meant to give homeowners extra peace of mind by using the Echo's sensitive (and privacy concerning) microphones to detect alarming sounds while you're out of the house. The update will eventually be added to all compatible Echo devices, such as the Echo Dot and the Echo Plus, so users will have to double-check to see whether their model is compatible.
The feature is easy to use once it's set up using the Alexa app. When you're about to leave the house, say the phrase, "Alexa, I'm leaving" to your Echo. Alexa will activate and confirm the command, and then go into guard mode to remain alert while you're out of the house, dutifully turning on smart lights to pretend you're home or sending Smart Alerts through the app to notify you of any changes. During this time, with its sensitive microphone, the Echo can pick up sounds such as breaking glass and smoke alarms, or send video recordings of events in real-time (if yours has a camera). Alexa will even record a clip of an alarm and send it to your phone to listen to. Guard doesn't have to work alone, either — it can coordinate with your existing security system, such as Ring Alarm or ADT, to send alerts to your provider.
What Alexa cannot do is contact the authorities on your behalf. The feature only adds an extra layer of security to deter burglaries from happening by making it look like someone's home. If there is an actual break-in occurring, it can only send you an alert about it. Either you or your security provider have to call the cops.
This is a significant shortcoming, CNET noted, particularly in a market where other security systems have built-in or optional features that will send the police to your home such as SimpliSafe, ADT, Nest Security, and Ring. But for a personal assistant who tries to do a little bit of everything, Alexa isn't that bad. The Verge felt Alexa Guard put the Echo in a position higher than the Google Home or Apple HomePod thanks to its sharp listening and smart light compatibility.
Not everyone might like this new feature. Privacy concerns have surrounded the Echo's voice-activated microphones with some people wondering how much Alexa can hear and record. Alexa Guard flies in the face of those concerns with this mode. Once you give the key phrase command ("Alexa, I'm leaving."), the Echo will detect and record any sounds or activity within the home. It will not stop until you turn it off using another verbal command ("Alexa, I'm home."). This leaves Alexa Guard open to possible abuse, as even USA Today toyed with the idea of using the "Drop In on Echo" feature to catch conversations or snooping teens in real-time.
For the record, any security system that alerts homeowners to disturbances will use microphones to detect sound. And some companies may or may not explain what happens to any possible recordings. But for the people who don't trust Alexa to play security guard, Amazon has you covered. Alexa Guard is an opt-in service, meaning you have to turn it on through Alexa's settings to activate it. If you don't want to enable Alexa Guard, then make sure to keep the "Guard" setting switched off.