Amazon has been getting a lot of attention - and criticism - because of revelations that Amazon employees actually are listening selectively to people using its Alexa-powered system as a way to improve voice recognition capabilities. While Amazon says that it is an extremely small sample being listened to, and that it takes consumers’ privacy concerns seriously, the stories have portrayed the company as potentially having Facebook-style privacy problems.

But now, a story in Digital Trends suggests that there is another side to the whole “listening” thing that may put a positive spin on the technology … in essence, turning lemons into lemonade.

The story says that Amazon is “rolling out a bunch of advanced home security features enabled by Alexa and available on Echo devices — for free. The new platform is called Alexa Guard and it’s now available for all Echo device owners, with no additional fee or monthly subscription. Amazon tells us that Echo owners can set up and enable Amazon Guard features almost instantly using the Alexa app.”

In essence Alexa users now can go into the app and enable it to listen when they’re not at home … and send them an alert if it hears things like a smoke alarm or the sound of breaking glass. The service also allows users to “drop in on your Echo remotely to check out just what is happening at home.”

In addition, Alexa Guard “can integrate with those services, including hands-free voice arming and disarming of security control systems from a variety of services including Ring, ADT Pulse and ADT Control, including the ability to copy your security monitoring service on any Smart Alerts that come down the line.”

KC's View: I’m not suggesting that Guard has been rolled out specifically to address Amazon’s recent PR problems … but it does show one of the advantages of the technology that people may not have thought about. I was curious how easily it could be enabled, so I tried it … and it took about 30 seconds.

The key here is that I opted in … something that Amazon didn’t offer all of us who have Alexa-powered systems in our homes and offices and didn’t know that it had the ability to listen in uninvited.