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Amazon IS listening to you through Alexa

12th April 2019

Alexa only listens to you once you say “Alexa”, right? Wrong. Amazon has just confirmed a myth surrounding its voice assistant, which is one of the most popular in the world.

It’s no secret that voice assistants have changed the way we live our lives and continue to do so as they improve their technology – 2 in 5 adults in the UK perform a voice search at least once a day. They can turn on appliances, answer questions, play your favourite music and order things online, all so you don’t have to.

Up until now, the belief was that your Amazon Alexa – and other devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home – only listen to you after they hear a “wake word” like ‘OK, Google’ or ‘Alexa’. In fact, in marketing materials, Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” However, it doesn’t mention the human aspect of this process. 

Recently, in a statement, Amazon revealed that it employs thousands of people internationally to help improve Alexa’s knowledge by listening to recordings that are randomly taken from your Alexa. The recordings are transcribed and annotated – this information is then sent back to Alexa’s server.

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” an Amazon spokesman said in an emailed statement. “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.

“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. 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's privacy policy says that Alexa's software provides a variety of data to the company (including your use of Alexa, your Alexa Interactions, and other Alexa-enabled products), but doesn't explicitly state how employees themselves interact with the data.

The team employed by Amazon have heard some pretty eye-opening stuff according to reports online – including some very intimate moments.

If you’re worried about your smart speaker listening to you, remember that you can always use the handy mute button.

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