25 April 2019
Well yes, Amazon's Alexa listens to every command given to it and that’s how it plays your favourite song or a turn off the light or can switch the channel. While millions of users have installed smart speakers at their homes, a lot are reluctant since these speakers have powerful microphones which can record everything you talk and can pose a serious security and privacy issue.
Their reluctance isn’t vague since Amazon has accepted that it’s employee’s at different part of the world may be listening to your commands to Alexa. The company has employees in its offices located in Romania, Costa Rica, Boston, and India who listen to as good as 1000-audio clips during their 9-hour shift.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” an Amazon spokesman said in a statement emailed to Bloomberg. “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience."
These employees, who listen to these audio clips, occasionally hear unwanted or extreme audio clips, however, they were told that it wouldn’t be appropriate for Amazon to intervene. Employees often share and discuss with other employees in an internal chat application and even share sound clips that they have problems encrypting.
“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 spokesperson told Bloomberg.
Amazon’s marketing materials or privacy policies have never specifically mentioned that humans are listening to recordings of some of their conversations picked by Alexa. “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” the company says in a list of frequently asked questions.
A screenshot received by Bloomberg reveals that the auditors do not get the users full name or address but these recordings are associated with users first name, device serial number and an account number.
While, Amazon has not outrightly accepted that humans are involved in the process but the company has mentioned that it has taken relevant user consent to train Alexa and the fact that it also offers an option to customers which lets them disable the use of their voice for training Alexa.