The Amazon Echo smart speaker is notorious for being highly sensitive to its command word. By default, any user can activate the speaker just by verbalizing commands like, “Alexa, give me directions to the grocery store.” You can even use it to find out how to read text messages from another phone without installing software.
Amazon is doubling down on this voice user interface (VUI) model, which will ultimately improve user interactions with technology. In the meantime, calling your smart speaker by its name is difficult for some users. This is especially true if you share a name with it. By default, the Echo responds to “Alexa.” So, if you already have an Alexa in your life, should you still consider buying a smart speaker?
Alternative Command Words
Amazon’s smart speakers contain a little-known feature which allows users to customize the “wake word” that activates the digital assistant. However, at the time of this writing, only a few custom wake words are available. These include “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” and “Computer.” By using them, you may be able to learn more about the device’s owner, without knowing how to read text messages from another phone without installing software.
While it’s undeniably awesome to address your digital assistant like a Star Trek character, it’s surprising that the Echo only allows these four command words. None of these words are completely avoidable in a typical conversation. Why can’t you specify any command you want? Personally, I would like to choose something more avoidable – words like “syzygy” or “abracadabra.”
In any case, “Abracadabra, order some dish detergent” is much more fun to say.
Avoiding Annoying Alexa Attacks
Audio from a television or computer can also activate the Echo. This has prompted newscasters, YouTubers, and even commercial ad-writers to record blurbs that will activate Alexa.
Needless to say, this can be problematic, especially for people who use one-click buying. Unscrupulous advertisers can include voice commands that will force customers to purchase their products. While most of them are just trolls, it can be a real annoyance.
Since “Alexa” is the default command word, you can use any of the other options to avoid these attacks. It also saves users from calling Amazon customer service for a return. But none of Amazon’s options completely prevent this issue. They just shift the problem to one of the other four options, any of which you could accidentally say in a conversation.
Other digital assistants may be less prone to accidental or intentional activation. You can activate Google’s digital assistant by saying “Okay, Google.” This phrase is much less likely to come up in a typical conversation. Plus, you’ll still be able to look up how to read text messages from another phone without installing software.
Apple and Microsoft both take a different approach. To activate Siri, you just say, “Hey Siri.” While Siri is a common nickname in Norway or Sweden, it isn’t a typical name elsewhere. That makes it a better option than “Alexa.” Microsoft’s approach is even better. To activate their assistant, you use the entirely fictional name “Cortana.”
With these approaches, you still have the human aspect of a proper name, without accidentally activating your device when your friend Alexa comes over for dinner. That is, until Halo nerds start naming their children Cortana.