Amazon admits that employees review "small sample" of Alexa audio
14 April, 2019, 04:42 | Author: Erin Carter
Two "reviewers", the employees who listen to and transcribe the sound, were interviewed by Bloomberg. Tech analysts say that this is because Amazon Alexa does not require a dedicated hardware chip to wake the device and start recording - unlike some other voice assistants.
Amazon's teams even have chat rooms where they can get help with tricky transcriptions, or share amusing snippets, according to Bloomberg. But there are obviously some more worrying recordings as well which can upset - Amazon apparently has processes in place for team members who hear distressing audio.
"We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously", an Amazon spokesman toldBloomberg in an emailed statement. The more data we use to train these systems, the better Alexa works, and training Alexa with voice recordings from a diverse range of customers helps ensure Alexa works well for everyone. In contrast, Apple says Siri recordings are stripped of personally identifiable information, associated with a random identifier, and deleted after 6 months.
'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'.
As Bloomberg notes, there is already a segment of the population that avoid smart speakers because of privacy concerns.
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Sometimes the employees can even hear chatter in the background while Alexa is on, but they are not authorized to speak about their work, Bloomberg reported. The company claims that with this process it aims to remove the gaps in Alexa's understanding of human speech so that it can respond to voice commands in a better way.
"You don't necessarily think of another human listening to what you're telling your smart speaker in the intimacy of your home", Florian Schaub, a professor at the University of MI who has researched privacy issues related to smart speakers, told Bloomberg.
But Amazon could have been more explicit about the role of human reviewers.
But two employees said that after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told "it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere".
However, Amazon reasons that it does mention this fact under its frequently asked questions section, which states that users agree in helping train Alexa's speech recognition and language understanding. One of the workers spoken to said up to 100 recordings are being transcribed every day when Alexa was triggered by something other than the wake word. In the privacy settings on the Alexa app for iPhone and Android, there's a setting to allow Amazon to use voice recordings to develop new features. Apple disclosed they store recorded information for six months, after which the audio is stripped of all identification information, but can be still used for machine learning.
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