If you’ve got an Amazon Echo, it can now double as a secondary alert system for fires and break-ins. Today, Amazon is introducing a new feature in the U.S. called Alexa Guard, which will notify you with audio and video clips whenever it detects your smoke alarm or the sound of broken glass.
To enable the feature, you have to go to the settings menu in the Alexa app and select Guard. After that’s done, you’ll still have to say “Alexa, I’m leaving,” every time you leave the house, in order to trigger the device’s Away mode. Once enabled, your Echo device will listen for smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and breaking glass. If those noises are detected, it’ll send an alert to your smartphone and you can choose to either listen to a 10-second audio clip, or if your Echo has a camera, peek in on what’s happening. If you have Ring or ADT Pulse security systems, you can also hook up your Echo to these services to forward any smart alerts.
It’s important to note that this is not a security system. Even if Alexa detects a fire or robber in your home, Amazon’s FAQ explicitly states it is “not a replacement for an alarm system or life safety device and cannot contact emergency services, such as the police or fire department, on your behalf.” And seeing as all Echo devices don’t have batteries and rely on the cloud, the feature won’t work if your internet is down or the power goes out.
From a privacy standpoint, Amazon says it only listen for alarms or glass breaking when in Away mode. It also says it doesn’t store any recordings in the cloud unless a sound is detected. As for recordings that are recorded, you can choose to delete Alexa Guard audio via the Privacy settings in the Alexa app or online. However, the FAQ for Alexa Guard also warns “deleting Alexa Guard audio recordings may degrade your Alexa experience.” Suuuure. As always, if the idea of Alexa recording everything you’ve ever asked creeps you out, perhaps shouldn’t get an always-listening smart speaker. Or if you already have one, maybe it’s time to chuck it in the bin.
Overall, this feature seems well-intentioned, though I can think of at least a few instances where you might end up on the receiving end of false alarms. Like, if your asshole cat decides it wants to destroy that glass cup you forgot to put away or that heirloom vase from your grandma. Or, if you forget to tell Alexa you’re home, start searing meat in your tiny one-room apartment, and the smoke alarm goes off. I shudder at the thought of trying to disarm a blaring smoke alarm and the Alexa Guard alert at the same time.
In any case, it’s all moot if you can’t remember to tell Alexa you’re leaving for the day.