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Have you ever wondered what your Alexa device is up to when you are not interacting with it? Well, according to a Bloomberg report, it’s listening to your conversations.
The report, which shocked people worldwide, says “Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers.”
“The team,” the report says, “listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.
“The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”
Amazon users have never been told that their conversations with Alexa (or even with others) are listened to. The device’s marketing literature just says that Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.”
The closest admittance of Amazon’s concealed efforts to save information collected from Alexa devices comes from a simple throwaway line in their “FAQs” which says, “[We] use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.”
Most consumers will probably think that their interactions or requests made with Alexa are rated after they have been saved.
But the Bloomberg report revealed Amazon has hired thousands of workers who listen to and analyze the data collected by Alexa. This team of workers, usually located outside of the US, has been bounded by some arrangement to keep the project a secret.
Amazon has defended its program in an emailed statement released to Bloomberg.
The company said they make sure to prevent users’ personal data from being publicly released or being used in any other way.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” the statement said. “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience.
“For example, 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.
“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.
“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 said the Alexa app also provides an option to “opt-out” of the program, but it isn’t easy for the user to find it.
Bloomberg says it has attained several submissions made to the secret team and found that much of the identifying information, such as account number and name, are deleted out before they’re listened to. The user’s account number and the device’s serial number are typically left behind.
Amazon isn’t the only firm to employ a human team for improving its artificial intelligence devices. Both Google and Apple use human assessment team to review the interactions made with their AI platforms.
Amazon says it just gathers random data samples which are deleted as soon as they’re analyzed and that it doesn’t record the echo conversations.
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