Amazon employees are listening and recording conversations spoken after waking Alexa in the homes of thousands of people worldwide, reports say.
Amazon’s Alexa needs more human assistance than the public may be aware of. Full-time Amazon workers spend their days “parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift,” reports from Bloomburg reveal. These clips may merely be innocent phrases intended to help Alexa cope with slang and understand human speech patterns, but they also catch snippets of personal life through Alexa, such as clips workers discussed wherein they heard a woman singing off-key in the shower and a child crying for help.
If the workers come across an audio file they find amusing, they will share it with their co-workers in their group chat, reports reveal. There has also been an incident wherein two Romanian workers worried they overheard a sexual assault, but when they questioned their superiors on how to respond to these situations, they were told not to interfere.
In a list of frequently asked questions on their website, Amazon does not explicitly acknowledge that humans are listening and recording Alexa’s owners. “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” the company says.
Alexa‘s privacy settings does allow users to disable the feature allowing their voice recordings to be used, Bloomberg reports. However, even disabling this feature does not prevent Amazon from using your recordings. “The company says people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process,” Bloomberg reports. “A screenshot reviewed by Bloomberg shows that the recordings sent to the Alexa reviewers don’t provide a user’s full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user’s first name and the device’s serial number.”
An Amazon spokesperson told The Daily Caller News Foundation that they take customer’s security and privacy very seriously and have a “zero tolerance policy” for any abuse of the system.
“By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo),” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button).”
“Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow,” the statement said. “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.”
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