Amazon admits it.
The company employs thousands of people worldwide whose sole purpose is to listen private conversations via its Echo line of speakers by using the Alexa digital assistant.
Now, the workers are confessing about what they’ve heard.
Amazon has teams of people across the globe tasked with transcribing recorded conversations pulled from the homes and officers of Echo customers.
The analysts claim to listen to as many as 1,000 clips per shift, which Amazon claims is a minuscule amount given there are tens of millions of folks who own their systems.
“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 system, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone,” a spokesperson for the company explained via email.
The recent revelation confirms the worst fears privacy advocates who have warned against trading privacy for convenience and technological advancements.
A pair of Amazon employees, speaking anonymously, said Alexa users often ask questions such as, “Is someone else listening to us?” or “Do you work for the NSA?”
Employees who listen through Alexa say the work is mostly mundane, but they do encounter embarrassing clips like woman singing out of key in the shower.
Teams utilize chat rooms to share files when they need help deciphering a word that’s difficult to hear — or when they come across something amusing or interesting.
“We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience,” the company wrote in an email to the Daily Mail.
“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.”
Amazon admitted it uses the recordings to improve Alexa’s ability to understand speech patterns and human language, but says it has stringent security measures in place to keep user’s data safe.
“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system,” Amazon’s spokesperson said in the email.
Amazon’s employees aren’t permitted to directly access information that can be used to identify a person or their account.
“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’s help page on its website dedicated to Alexa says the company may “use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.”
In the recent past, concerns have been raised about Alexa’s smart speaker systems listening with the aim of targeting users with advertising based off the information it collects.
If you ask Alexa “are you spying on me?”
“I only send audio back to Amazon when I hear you say the wake word,” Alexa responds in the video above.
Alexa also claims to not be able to find the answer to the question or understand, “do work for the government?”
And that’s a concerning omission to privacy advocates warning about technology infringing on our basic right to privacy.