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Is Alexa recording your conversations? How to protect your private information

TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen continues his "Are They Watching You?" series by showing how to protect your personal information.
by Jeff Rossen and Lindsey Bomnin / / Source: TODAY

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If you think the messages you send to a friend on Facebook Messenger or the conversations you have in earshot of Amazon's Alexa are private, that may not be the case.

National investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen teamed with cyber security expert Jim Stickley on TODAY Wednesday to illustrate how making a few simple changes in the settings of popular apps can go a long way toward protecting your personal information.

Get Jeff Rossen's new book "Rossen to the Rescue" here

In the first part of his series "Are They Watching You?", Rossen got to the bottom of three tech myths involving social media and shopping apps.

Today, we've got tips on how to prevent your private messages from being read, your location from being tracked, and conversations in your home from being recorded.

Here's how to keep your private life .... private.

Myth No. 1: Facebook is reading your private messages sent via Facebook Messenger.

Answer: Yes. The company told NBC it may read your conversations looking for images of child exploitation, malware and terrorism using "automated systems," but that it won't use the contents of the messages to send you targeted ads.

The solution is to encrypt your Facebook messages by taking the following steps:

  1. Open the messenger app.
  2. Search for the contact you want to message.
  3. Click on your contact’s photo.
  4. Scroll down to "SECRET CONVERSATION" and hit it.
  5. Your conversation is now private.

Myth No. 2: Uber is tracking your every move even when you aren't using the app.

Answer: No. The company used to track everyone even when they weren't on the app, but a backlash from customers resulted in them no longer doing it, Stickley said.

However, you still can be monitored at all times by Uber by accidentally turning it on without even realizing it. You can turn off the tracking by taking the following steps:

  1. Go to settings.
  2. Then scroll to privacy.
  3. Go to "Location Services"
  4. Scroll down to the Uber app and hit it.
  5. Change to "While Using the App."

Myth No. 3: Amazon's Alexa is listening all the time.

Answer: Yes ... and no. The device is always listening for the prompt "Alexa," and Amazon says it won't start recording until it hears that word.

However, Amazon also told NBC News that Alexa devices will wake up "in rare cases" if a word in background conversation sounds like "Alexa," and the company is continuing "to improve wake word accuracy and minimize false responses."

The good news is that there is a way to delete any recorded conversations off Amazon's servers by going to the Alexa app and taking the following steps:

  1. Open the app.
  2. Hit "settings."
  3. Scroll down to "history."
  4. Click on any recording or transcript.
  5. Hit "delete voice recordings."

Myth No. 4. Your iMessages on your iPhone are private.

Answer: Yes ... and no.

Apple says your messages are encrypted even if they are backed up on iCloud. But Apple does store a copy of the encryption key that can unlock those messages. The company doesn't do anything with it, but it is stored on the cloud.

To prevent Apple from having the encryption key or your messages stored on their servers, take the following steps:

  1. Go to settings.
  2. Click on your account.
  3. Click on your name at the top.
  4. Got to iCloud.
  5. Go to "messages" and turn that tab off.

To suggest a topic for an upcoming investigation, visit the Rossen Reports Facebook page.

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