Amazon admits that employees review "small sample" of Alexa audio

Amazon workers eavesdrop on your talks with Alexa

Last year, a user said a file of a conversation recorded without their knowledge was sent to an Amazon employee.

Amazon employs a global team that transcribes the voice commands captured after the wake word is detected and feeds them back into the software to help improve Alexa's grasp of human speech so it can respond more efficiently in the future, Bloomberg reports.

"We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously", said an Amazon spokesperson in an emailed statement to us.

Now, Amazon is at the center of a potentially massive data scandal which suggests workers, not just artificial intelligence, are listening to Alexa voice commands.

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Users can opt out of their recordings being used for development purposes, but Amazon doesn't explicitly tell Echo customers that humans might be listening to them.

The company says they have "strict technical and operational safeguards" to protect privacy and a "zero tolerance policy" for the abuse by employees. Remember that recordings are only retained by Alexa when you've uttered the wake word - although accidental activations are also noted down.

If you check out your Amazon Echo smart speaker's history via the Alexa app (Alexa account - History), depending on where and when you use the device, you may see little more than general, genuine queries. Their fear may not be far off as thousands of Amazon employees listen to recordings from Amazon Echo speakers to better Alexa for its users. They said they worked "nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift".

Second, you'll know when Alexa is recording because the blue ring on your Echo will light up. Engadget has reported that "two workers from Romania said they had to listen to what could've been sexual assault" and that "they were apparently told that they couldn't do anything about it, because it's not Amazon's job to interfere". Amazon has people working on listing and transcribing the records that are both contract and full-time, and all sign non-disclosure agreements.

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BBC notes that the practice of employees listening to requests of digital assistants is fairly common among big tech companies. Apple's Siri also has a human assessment team that looks at Siri interactions in an effort to make them better, and Google's Home devices also have an option for reviewers to assess how well the product answers their questions.

The employees utilize group chats, in which they share the audio clips and seek assistance with particularly unintelligible words.

It is not the first time Amazon has been found to be relying on human labour for its smart services.

And don't forget that all three devices also have an additional, nearly magical feature that can be used to comprehensively address every type of privacy concern: the power cord.

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