Amazon’s Alexa illustrates growing influence of artificial intelligence
Amazon has confirmed that employees sometimes eavesdrop on people as they interact with its Alexa digital assistant — but there’s a way to block them from listening in.
The company employs “thousands of people around the world” to listen to people talk to Alexa via Echo speakers, Bloomberg reports. They listen to voice recordings captured in homes and offices, then transcribe and annotate the conversations.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” Amazon said in a statement released to McClatchy. “We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers 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,” the statement continues. “Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. While 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, customers can delete their voice recordings associated with their account at any time.”
Amazon also noted that Echo devices must be activated via voice command, called a “wake word,” or with a button, before any audio recordings are stored or sent to the cloud.
But Alexa users can opt to disable the software allowing Amazon employees to listen to the recordings, CNBC reports. In the privacy settings on the Alexa app for iPhone and Android, there’s a setting to allow Amazon to use voice recordings to develop new features.
There’s also a setting to let Amazon use messages to improve transcriptions. Both buttons default to “on,” but Alexa users can open the privacy settings on the app and turn them off, CNBC says.