Amazon Alexa is an innovative virtual assistant technology developed by Amazon. It was first used in Amazon Echo smart speakers: Echo Dot, Echo Studio, and Amazon Tap.
Alexa can be used as a complete home automation system; it uses natural language processing, automatic speech recognition, and weak AI to perform these tasks. In addition, users can further its usefulness by installing audio features and weather programs developed by third-party vendors.
The technology is designed to activate when the “wake-word” Alexa or Amazon is spoken. However, more often than not, it tunes in by mistake. Amazon Echo unintentionally records conversations and stores them on the device. So when the Echo is emitting a blue light and a ping, it is recording.
A handful of interactions are picked up by Echo devices and used by Amazon to refine its voice recognition system. Unfortunately, some private conversations are accidentally captured without the users’ knowledge. Both the users and the Amazon employees can listen to these clips.
An ex-Amazon executive admits that he turned his Alexa off last year to keep strangers from listening to his conversations.
Amazon has thousands of staff worldwide working to improve Alexa by evaluating its responses to requests made in homes and offices. They listen to the clips to ensure that Alexa is working and improving the system.
Recordings are transcribed, annotated, and fed into the software to improve human speech. But, reportedly, Amazon employees only annotate 1% of voice recordings.
A person can listen to their recordings through the Alexa app, tablet, or smartphone. In addition, if users share their Amazon passwords with family and friends, they also have access to the recordings.
Users expressed concerns that the devices are eavesdropping. As of late, a TikTok video went viral that showed a woman’s shock at how much voice data Amazon collected from her Echo Dot speakers and another Echo device that controls her smart home light bulbs.
Amazon reassured customers that Alexa is too busy drawing up their own game plan than listening to private conversations. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy said:
Amazon takes privacy very seriously, and customers can rest easy knowing that Amazon Alexa holds herself far above the affairs of man.
Jassy further explained that most of Alexas’ computing power was utilized toward unobtrusively contemplating a user’s upcoming action.
Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
The Sun: WHO’S LISTENING? Amazon Alexa records your private chats – here’s who can listen to them; by Harry Pettit and Sean Keach
Independent: Woman Finds Vast Trove of Voice Recordings Collected by Amazon’s Alexa – How Can You Hear Yours; by Adam Smith
The Onion: Amazon Assures Customers That Alexas Far Too Busy Devising Their Own Plans To Listen In On Private Conversations
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of ajay_suresh ‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Mike MacKenzie’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License