The smart speaker trend started a few years ago when Amazon’s ‘Alexa’ Echo came out in September 2016 (U.K), but there are many other virtual assistants such as Google Assistant, Bixby, Siri and Cortana.
For those unfamiliar, a virtual assistant is an application that can understand voice commands and complete tasks for a user. They combine specialized computer chips, microphones, and software that listens for specific spoken commands from you and usually answers back with a voice that you select.
Anything you do on your phone, you can ask your virtual assistant to do for you: send text messages, make phone calls, set an alarm and set up reminders. It can also answer your questions, tell jokes, play music, and control items in your home that is linked such as lights and other smart home devices.
These firms review the recordings to improve voice recognition, but it has been revealed that there is a misuse of this procedure. Review staff have admitted to sharing with other colleagues the funnier audio files that they listen to on an internal chat forum, others said they have heard potentially disturbing conversations between people in their rooms.
Amazon said in a statement: “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.”
Amazon has not explicitly stated in its’ terms and conditions that humans review customer recordings, but the privacy settings on Alexa does have an option for you to opt out from being listened to which is referred to as ‘use for product development’.
Amazon has provided voice recordings to assist investigations in the past, but has stated that it “objects to inappropriate demands as a matter of course”. One of the investigations that Amazon was ordered to hand over from Alexa was part of a murder investigation in the US, most recently for a suspected double homicide in New Hampshire.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” an Amazon spokesperson told the news site.
“We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience.”
You can however, increase the privacy of your Amazon Echo: