Not only is Alexa listening when you speak to an Echo smart speaker, an Amazon worker is potentially listening, too.
We welcome microphones, and indeed cameras, into our homes because it gives us great convenience and adds new capabilities to our home lives. Capabilities that were previously absent unless we pressed buttons on our allock, checked a fact in an encyclopedia or, well, looked out of the window to see what the weather is doing. We welcomed them thinking naively that only only computers were listening in, not other human beings.
Now it has been revealed that humans have been listening in all along. The reasons given are that they are listening to improve the voice recognition technology behind the device. However, what these workers listen to is can be very intrusive since the device is recording even when it hasn’t been woken.
Amazon reportedly employs thousands of full-time workers and contractors in several countries, including the United States, Costa Rica and Romania, to listen to as many as 1,000 audio clips in shifts that last up to nine hours. The audio clips they listen to were described as “mundane” and even sometimes “possibly criminal,” including listening to a potential sexual assault.
In response to the story, an Amazon spokesperson has this to say:
We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. 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.
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