An Amazon employee might have listened to your Alexa recording

Andrew Cummings
April 12, 2019

Amazon workers around the world, from Romania to India and Costa-Rica, are employed just to listen, curate and annotate other people's audio clips sent via the Amazon Echo device, according to a report by Bloomberg. Workers listen to, transcribe, and annotate private voice recordings captured from Echo users. Bloomberg reports that one of these workers will review as many as 1,000 clips in a nine-hour shift.

Two unnamed sources told the publication that in several cases they picked up potentially criminal and upsetting activities, accidentally recorded by Alexa.

In a statement, Amazon said that recorded voices can not be linked by Amazon staff to customer accounts.

Amazon employees have been secretly listening back to and mocking the things that customers ask Alexa and are sharing recordings of them in internal chat rooms, it has emerged.

Amazon devices rely on microphones listening out for a key word, which can be triggered by accident and without their owner's realisation. This revelation today at least partly confirms the validity of their concerns.

According to Amazon workers interviewed by Bloomberg, the Alexa review process starts when the company pulls a small random sample of audio recordings.

Amazon reiterated that privacy and security are a top priority and that "employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow". The marketing materials for the Echo claim "Alexa lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter", only hinting in the lengthy Alexa FAQ that "We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems".

Most of the time, when you talk to an Amazon Echo device, only Amazon's voice-recognition software is listening.

The company says they have "strict technical and operational safeguards" to protect privacy and a "zero tolerance policy" for the abuse by employees.

The news site said it had spoken to seven people who reviewed audio from Amazon Echo smart speakers and the Alexa service. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Additionally, the employees occasionally hear what sounds like crimes taking place-two workers say they heard what's believed to have been a sexual assault-but some were told it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere.

Amazon is still largely trusted by consumers, but that could change with too many privacy snafus.

Some transcribe artist names, linking them to specific musicians in the company's database; others listen to the entire recorded command, comparing it with what the automated systems heard and the response they offered, in order to check the quality of the company's software.

However, as any user of a smart speaker knows, ambient noise can be mistaken for the wake word, triggering the recording by accident.

Staff members have said that the work is mostly mundane, however they do come across embarrassing clips, like a woman singing off-key in the shower. Apple uses a similar system of human workers to improve Siri, but it doesn't include any identifying data with the recordings.

Other reports by iNewsToday