YOU MAY THINK the intimate chats you share with your Amazon Echo are between you and Alexa. That's not the case it turns out, as a whole bunch of humans are paid to play back recordings with the aims of making Alexa slightly less dim.
An explosive report from Bloomberg has revealed that your clips have potentially been heard by thousands of Amazon employees. The report explains that the company has staff around the world, both full time and contract, whose job it is to listen to people's interactions with the Echo devices and use that to improve how Alexa responds in future.
In short, spying doesn't sound anything like as interesting as the James Bond films make it appear. As Bloomberg describes it, the work involves transcribing recordings, annotating them and then feeding them back into the software to make Alexa a little more intelligent in future.
You know when you call a customer service line and you're told "your call may be recorded for training purposes"? It's a bit like that, only substitute the word "may" to "will" and... actually scrap the whole analogy because Amazon doesn't mention this anywhere.
If you were feeling super charitable, you could highlight Amazon's note that "we use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems" as a warning of this, but it's not exactly explicit and doesn't mention the whole town's worth of humans involved in the process.
And yes, that does mean people are possibly giggling at the stupid things you've said to Alexa in the past. The report mentions that there are chat channels where employees can help each other with particularly tricky transcriptions, and yes, they do share funny clips.
Worse, Bloomberg mentions at least two workers who believe they captured a recording of a sexual assault. We're just going to put the full quote here, so there's no room for ambiguity: "Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere."
That's not wholly surprising, given ‘interfering' would shatter the Echo's promise of privacy in one single shot, but at the same time: yikes.
In response to the report, Amazon put out the following statement: "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."
If all of this sounds a bit familiar, you must have read about how Amazon-owned Ring also employs people to analyse private footage from your cameras. Isn't the future wonderful? µ
'Some of us like the misery'
That'll surely affect its credit score
Smarter than your average pair of smart glasses
9.8-rated vuln hasn't yet been fixed