Amazon Admits Employees Listens to Private Alexa Conversations

April 13, 2019

Amazon has admitted that employees listen to customer voice recordings from Echo and other Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

The online retail giant said its staff “reviewed” a sample of Alexa voice assistant conversations in order to improve speech recognition.

“This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone,” Amazon said in a statement.

“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.”

Amazon does not explicitly state in its terms and conditions that humans review customer recordings, though its Alexa privacy settings offer users the chance to opt out of helping the firm “develop new features”.

Cyber security specialist Jake Moore said this suggests users could prevent their recordings from being shared with Amazon employees.

“Long has there been fears that smart technology and social media is listening to more than we may realise,” he told The Independent.

“Amazon’s Alexa privacy settings sadly don’t let you opt out of the voice recording, but you can stop your recordings being used for product development, plus you can delete any previous voice recordings in the settings.”

First reported by Bloomberg, Amazon employees had access to the customer’s first name, account number and the serial number of the smart device for each voice clip.

Staff are played a clip and then isolate any words that the Alexa AI has been unable to pick up. The humans can correct the transcription, with those results then being fed back into the machine so that it can more accurately listen to users in the future.

Some employees admitted to sharing amusing recordings with other employees via an internal chat room. Others said they had heard potentially disturbing conversations between people in their homes.

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