Amazon workers can hear what you say to Alexa

11 April, 2019, 22:12 | Author: Eric Barnett
  • Amazon workers eavesdrop on your talks with Alexa

Amazon, Apple and Google all employ staff who listen to customer voice recordings from their smart speakers and voice assistant apps.

That's according to a report from Bloomberg, which says the company has human reviewers in locations including Boston, Costa Rica, India and Romania who listen to hundreds of Alexa recordings every day.

Amazon employees are also able to listen to accidental recordings from customers around the world, including in the United Kingdom, made when the devices think that they hear the word "Alexa".

The workers, who range from contract to full-time employees, reportedly have signed nondisclosure agreements and listen to up to 1,000 audio clips per nine-hour shifts.

Moreover, Amazon Echo users also have the option of disabling the use of their voice recording for training purposes.

It also confirms that the company "associate your requests with your Amazon account to allow you to review your voice recordings, access other Amazon services. and to provide you with a more personalised experience".

Amazon is still largely trusted by consumers, but that could change with too many privacy snafus. The recordings are transcribed, annotated, then fed back as part of an effort to improve Alexa, the software that powers Echo devices. A spokesperson for the company released the following statement: "We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously".


Some transcribe artist names, linking them to specific musicians in the company's database; others listen to the entire recorded command, comparing it with what the automated systems heard and the response they offered, in order to check the quality of the company's software.

Amazon previously has been embroiled in controversy for privacy concerns regarding Alexa.

There are also a few nonsense recordings generated by the nearby television on record - including a man talking about his dog and politics mentioned once or twice - and while they may be seen as acceptable recording errors, the idea of an unknown human listening in may be enough to make you uneasy. "Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow", the spokesman said.

The help page of the Amazon website dedicated to Alexa states that Amazon may "use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems", explaining that the more data used to train these systems, the better the voice assistant is able to work.

Two workers told Bloomberg they heard a possible sexual assault.

But two employees said that after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told "it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere".

Amazon insists it has a zero tolerance policy for "abuse of our system" and claims to use multi-factor authentication and encryption to protect customer recordings during the annotation process. Google has reviewers that train Assistant, but the clips don't have any personally identifiable information and the audio itself is distorted to prevent any identification.

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