Bloomberg reports that Amazon employees have been listening to Echo recordings.
Citing sources who worked on the project, Bloomberg states that Amazon has commissioned thousands of people to listen to what has been recorded by Echo devices worldwide. This work aims to help Alexa better understand user requests.
Clips that are heard by Amazon employees include both explicit commands to Alexa, and background conversations. In practice, when a user pronounces one of the Echo trigger phrases, the device initiates a connection to the Amazon servers. Audio recordings begin immediately after.
With ECHO available in homes and offices around the world, users speak freely, mentioning names of people or perhaps sharing sensitive data such as banking information. In this case, Amazon has given orders to mark these clips as “critical data”.
The problem is that Amazon does not inform users that some conversations of Alexa are heard by their employees, even if on the website of the company it is specified that “user requests to Alexa are used to improve our voice recognition systems and understanding of natural language “.
The people who worked on the project say that this type of work is not very interesting, given that most of the music requests sent to Alexa are recorded. However, two employees reported that they had listened to what appeared to be sexual violence in progress. In these cases, since all the information is still anonymous, Amazon has told employees that it is not the responsibility of the company to act through legal means. It also seems that Amazon employees started to share between them disturbing or funny clips recorded via Alexa.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” Amazon said after this report was published. “We only note a very small sample of Alexa’s voice recordings to improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language comprehension systems so that Alexa can better understand your requests and ensure that the service works well for everyone “.
With human intervention, Amazon is able to teach Alexa software to recognize and respond to certain words and phrases. Like most speech recognition technologies, Alexa is powered by artificial intelligence, but the system requires timely training by human operators, in this case by workers from Boston, Costa Rica, India and Romania. These people can listen to up to 1000 clips a day, says Bloomberg report.
Recall that Apple also employs a human review process to improve Siri. In a security white paper, Apple let it be known that Siri saves voice recordings “so that the recognition system can use them to better understand the user’s voice”. From the recordings all identifiable information is removed, a random device identifier is also assigned and saved for six months, during which the system can draw on the data for learning purposes. After the six month period, the identifier is deleted and the clip is saved “to be used by Apple for up to two years for the purpose of improving and developing Siri“