Report: Amazon Employees Are Listening to Alexa Conversations

Would you forgo your privacy for more effective technology?

Owners of voice-activated home devices may need to start asking themselves that question.

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Thousands of Amazon employees across the globe listen to recordings captured by customers’ Echo smart speakers, according to a Bloomberg report published last week.

The workers are tasked with listening or transcribing recordings in order to make Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa more efficient at speech recognition.

Bloomberg interviewed several of those employees, who signed a non-disclosure agreement to keep them from discussing the Amazon program.

“They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, according to two workers based at Amazon’s Bucharest office,” according to the article.

Users can opt out of having their recordings used for product development purposes via their privacy settings, but according to Bloomberg, Amazon “says people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process.”

As to whether any of this constitutes a breach of privacy, Matt Kwiatkowski, Argonne National Laboratory’s deputy chief information security officer, said it depends on the consumer – and where they fall within a spectrum of privacy concerns.

“Some human beings don’t care that humans are listening in on their conversations and some of us do,” Kwiatkowski said. “These snippets of these voice recordings are getting analyzed and annotated by Amazon personnel to make the Alexa service better, which users of that service will enjoy.”

On the other hand, people must trust in the company they invite into their home or office via these devices.

“This data will now be in more than one location; it’s going to be farmed out across the globe,” Kwiatkowski said. “That’s when the user has to trust that Amazon is going to do the right thing and protect it.”

Follow Evan Garcia on Twitter: @EvanRGarcia

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