A new report suggests that Amazon employees can listen into your conversations with Alexa. Amazon has a designated ‘annotation team’ which reviews recordings of Alexa devices.
According to Bloomberg, Amazon has employed thousands of people across the globe to listen in on these recordings. The team consists of contractors and Amazon employees located in Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania. Each team member reviews about 1,000 audio clips each shift.
The goal of this team is to improve the voice assistant’s understanding of speech thus providing better responses. Employees will transcribe the recordings, annotated them, and then feed the recordings back to the software. This assists in improving Alexa’s ability to understand human speech.
Employees hear mostly ‘mundane’ conversations, however, there are some occasion where employees hear private and harmful recordings. For example, a worker in Boston said he hears words like ‘Taylor Swift’ and them annotate them. This way Alexa has a better understanding and searches for the musician.
“Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.”
Other times employees hear criminal activity such as sexual assault. Two employees on the team said when they hear something like that they try to relieve stress by sharing experiences in internal chat rooms. Amazon has commented saying that they offer their employees guidance when they have hear such traumatic events. However, Romanian based employees said that after they requested guidance, ‘they were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.’
Amazon has commented on this situation saying they take the security and privacy of their customer’s very seriously. They further stated that Amazon employees do not have access to private information of customers that may identify them like name or account.
Amazon also said:
“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system……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.”
It is possible for Alexa users to opt out of programs like the Annotation Team. To do this, you first go on to the Alexa app > Account > Alexa Privacy > ‘Manage how you data improves Alexa’. From this option, users can choose whether to let Alexa collect recordings or not.
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