Here's how to turn off Amazon Alexa calling

If Alexa's "butt dialing" this week has made you paranoid about your Echo, you're not alone, but luckily there's a way to prevent inadvertent eavesdropping by the smart speaker. As one family of Echo owners discovered, to their horror, Alexa can mis-hear commands and accidentally share a private conversation with a random contact. There's a way to prevent that completely, but there are a few steps you need to know first.

Disappointingly, while Amazon makes it exceedingly easy to turn on Alexa communications and synchronize your contacts with the virtual assistant, actually disabling it and deleting your contacts is a lot tougher. When you enable Alexa calling, it automatically sucks the contacts stored on your phone or tablet and synchronizes them with Amazon's system. Periodically, Alexa will check your address book and update its records accordingly.

What it doesn't offer, though, is an easy way to turn it off. From the Alexa app, it at first looks as though you can go through each Echo smart speaker and disable communications individually. However that option is only available if you've enabled FreeTime mode, Amazon's system to make Alexa safer for kids to use. If you don't have that enabled, you can't turn off communications.

There's a halfway measure to managing Alexa calls and messages, and that's the block tool. It's not especially easy to find, but you can individually block contacts. You'll need to open the Alexa app, choose "Contacts" from the menu, and then tap the "..." button in the top right corner. That reveals the "Block Contacts" option; tap it, and you can choose which contacts to block or, later on, unblock if you prefer.

Still, it's worth noting that even if you block a contact, you're still susceptible to "butt dialing" with Alexa. Blocking people in the app prevents them from being able to call you, or send you messages. However it doesn't stop you from calling them – which means if Alexa mis-hears and decides you want to place a call or send a voice message, there's nothing stopping it.

So, what if you want to disable Alexa calls and messaging altogether? Bizarrely, the only way to do that currently is to actually speak to an Amazon support representative and request that they turn the system off on your account.

You can do that by calling customer service – the number is 1-877-375-9365 – giving them your account details, and then asking them to turn the system off. Alternatively, you can have Amazon make the call to you itself. For that, you have to be logged into your Amazon account in your browser and then go to the Customer Help page.

1. Choose "Amazon Devices and Kindle Apps"

2. Choose your Echo device (or whatever other device you use with Alexa)

3. Choose "Something Else" for "Issue Details"

4. You'll automatically be taken to "Section 3"

5. Select "Phone," and a representative will call you

6. Ask them to disable "Alexa Calling and Messaging" for you

Amazon certainly isn't the only company which makes it easy for people to share their data and enable a service, then tricky for them to delete that data and deactivate it, but that doesn't make this Alexa rigamarole any more palatable. We're hoping the negative backlash this past week acts as a prompt to contacts and calling management being added to the Alexa app, where it really ought to be.