Amazon Is Reportedly Listening To People’s Alexa Voice Recordings

An Amazon Echo from above.
tagechos / Pixabay

Privacy is one of the biggest issues facing the newest and greatest technology. And according to a Bloomberg report, there is a “voice review program” for Echo devices at Amazon that could be questionable when it comes to user privacy.

BuzzFeed reported that employees “sometimes listen to as many as 1,000 recordings per shift, and that the recordings are associated with the customer’s first name, their device’s serial number, and an account number.”

“Among other clips, these employees and contractors said they’ve reviewed recordings of what seemed to be a woman singing in the shower, a child screaming, and a sexual assault.”

And that’s not all, as employees in the review program allegedly also shared clips with each other in chat rooms.

An official statement from Amazon to BuzzFeed noted that “an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings [is annotated, and reviewing the audio] 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.”

And while that may be true, there seems to be a problem still. That’s because although other companies like Apple and Google also conduct similar audio reviews, they only review anonymized data. That means that Apple and Google employees don’t know who the audio recordings are associated with. At the same time, the allegations against Amazon accuse the company of allowing employees and contractors access to data that’s tied to certain users by their first name and device serial numbers.

And when it comes to the number of employees that reportedly have such access, it may be more than you think. Apple Insider noted that it could be “thousands” of workers, listening up to 1,000 clips per day.

While some workers say their duties were mundane, others report stumbling across distressing content.

Whatever the case, it appears that those who are sensitive to privacy issues may want to think twice before integrating an Amazon Alexa device into their daily routines. And it’s hard to know whether the voice review program is ongoing, or whether they will be able to scale it back at one point, should the Alexa technology become more refined.

It’s also unclear whether anyone could discover the customers’ exact identity through their first names and device serial number. As technology continues to evolve, it appears that consumers need to be more informed than ever of the potential pros and cons of the devices they’re buying and using.