Thousands of Amazon workers hired to listen to recordings from Alexa

Amazon alexa opt out recordings

Now a new report has surfaced online highlighting that Amazon employees can listen to the voice recordings of Amazon Echo users captured in homes and offices.

E-commerce major Amazon is the leader of this space as the company offers plethora of Alexa-enabled Echo smart speakers.

Amazon reportedly employs thousands of full-time workers and contractors in several countries, including the United States, Costa Rica and Romania, to listen to as many as 1,000 audio clips in shifts that last up to nine hours.

According to research from past year, one in 10 people has one or more smart speakers in their home, with Amazon's range of Echo smart devices the market leader.

Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal.

Ashkan Soltani, the former chief technologist of the US Federal Trade Commission, wrote: "Most people consider a person listening significantly more privacy invasive than a machine".

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The Register asked Apple, Microsoft and Google, which all have smart search assistants, for a statement on the extent of human involvement in reviewing these recordings - and their retention policies. These are transcribed and annotated with the aim of improving the performance of digital assistant Alexa, helping the AI better understand human speech.

"Amazon characterised the number of recordings that actually are analysed by humans as "an extremely small sample" in a statement to Bloomberg, adding that it was exclusively for the goal of "[improving] the customer experience". According to the auditors, they transcribed as many as 100 recordings per day where no wake command was given.

If a worker comes across personal data, such as banking information, they are directed to mark the clip as "critical data". The revelation has naturally caused a significant amount of blowback from privacy advocates, primarily because Amazon hasn't exactly been upfront about what it's doing. Other times, there's no clear procedure: two employees told Bloomberg they heard "what they believe was a sexual assault". "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 told Fox News. However, particularly distressing or amusing recordings can be shared through employee chat rooms.

But two employees said that after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told "it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere".

According to Bloomberg, an Apple white paper says its Siri voice assistant only enlists humans to analyse recordings that "lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier", though the recordings may later be stripped of random IDs for long-term storage.

The spokesperson added that employees can't directly access identifying information about the people or accounts associated with the recordings, among other protections for the data, and "zero tolerance" for any abuse.

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