Published: Fri, April 12, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

Amazon staff listen to recordings of what you say to Alexa

Amazon staff listen to recordings of what you say to Alexa

The team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania, according to the people, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

'All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it'.

Amazon previously has been embroiled in controversy for privacy concerns regarding Alexa. Employees can discuss what they hear with other employees in an internal chat service, and they can share clips they have trouble interpreting-though the report also mentions files being shared simply because they are "amusing". Human workers manually annotate voice recordings fed into machine learning algorithms to help Alexa guess the best possible answer for a particular situation.

Privacy invasion: Sometimes the reviewers come across clips they find upsetting, or even potentially criminal.

Amazon does not specifically say on its website that human workers will listen to recordings on Echo devices.

The report indicates, however, that the content in those recordings can be quite serious: Two workers that Bloomberg spoke to detailed what they believed to be a recording of a sexual assault. Each listener ends up transcribing up to 100 "accidental" recordings a day, one source told Bloomberg - "accidental" meaning cases in which an Echo device starts recording without the user saying its "wake word".

Two employees based in Romania said they'd requested guidance from Amazon after hearing distressing recordings, but were told it wasn't the company's job to interfere despite claiming to have procedures in place to support staff in such an event.

In a statement, Amazon said that recorded voices can not be linked by Amazon staff to customer accounts.

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Amazon doesn't exactly advertise the human role in its AI assistant.

The terms and conditions for Amazon's Alexa service state that voice recordings are used to "answer your questions, fulfil your requests, and improve your experience and our services".

The Echo device has become the best-selling smart speaker in Ireland with tens of thousands sold here and millions sold worldwide.

"It has a very specific wake word, so it's nothing more than any other device sitting on a countertop until it's been woken up".

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson claimed that the company only reviews a small portion of Alexa conversations.

In this tab, you can toggle various options including whether or not you permit your Alexa usage to be used to "develop new features", and whether messages you send with Alexa can be used by Amazon to "improve transcription accuracy".

According to Apple's security policy, voice recordings lack personally identifiable information and are linked to a random ID number, which is reset every time Siri is switched off.

Apple and Google - who also make popular voice-assistant tech - also have employees who listen to audio commands. The audio is also distorted to safeguard identity.

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