Amazon employees listen to what you say to Alexa
A new investigation by Bloomberg revealed how Amazon it takes thousands of people to listen to some of the commands users give to Alexa, in order to improve the artificial intelligence behind the voice assistant. The analyzed audios, although theoretically anonymised by the company prior to the analysis, may still potentially contain sensitive material depending on the context of the recording.
Amazon and Alexa privacy
When we use the voice assistant on our mobile phone or on our smart speaker, we probably like to think that what we say remains between us and theartificial intelligence in the cloud behind the device. And if that’s how for most cases, some commands are listened to by others as well human beings.
To continuously improve his TO THE, indeed, Amazon (as well as Google and Apple) employs thousands of employees to listen to a huge number of recordings. Their task is to catalog them, transcribe them or associate the appropriate response to each of these commands, in order to improve the artificial intelligence algorithm.
In the case of Amazon, the employees are a mix of contractors and full-time workers, spread all over the world: from Boston up to Costa Rica, L’India and the Romania. TO Bucharest, for example, the dedicated Amazon office occupies the top three floors of an anonymous building, coincidentally without any external reference to the multinational hosted inside it.
In a daily shift of nine hours, an employee can get to listen too 1000 audio. The work usually does not involve particularly exciting recordings. For example, a worker from Boston said she had to collect vocal data regarding the pronunciation of certain words, including the name “Taylor Swift”, to improve searches for music.
There are of course also cases of more “private” audio, such as people singing in the shower or screaming children. But then there are also disturbing audio or that even make you think about criminal situations. For example, two workers said they heard one unfold sexual violence. Although in this type of situation the company offers workers the emotional and psychological support they need, when asked for directions on how to proceed, they were told that Amazon is not in charge of intervening.
An Amazon spokesperson said, “We take the security and privacy of our users very seriously. We only transcribe an extremely small sample of Alexa recordings, with the aim of improving the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition algorithm and natural language understanding systems, so that Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure good service for all. “
He continues: “We have technical and operational safeguards, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuses of our system. Employees do not have direct access to the information necessary to identify the person or account they are working on. All information is treated strictly confidential and we use, to protect it, multi-factor authentication to restrict access, an encryption service and checks from our control center. “
The company, however, does not explicitly mention, in its promotional and privacy material, of human listening to the recordings made by Alexa. A screenshot obtained by Amazon employees also revealed how audio files are associated with a account identified code, as well as al first name (without the surname) of the user and al serial number of the device used.
As mentioned earlier, other services also use human operators to improve their algorithms. Apple, for Siri, uses only records “without personally identifiable information, kept for six months with a random identification number”. Google, on the other hand, makes available to its employees only distorted audio, recognizable in the content but not in the origin.
In the case of Amazon, users can still ask to be excluded from this program. By going into Alexa’s privacy settings, you can disable the authorization to use their data for the development of new features. And, if you really think your privacy isn’t safe yet, maybe it’s time to reassess your Echo purchase.