Amazon reportedly has a dedicated team of employees that are listening to voice recordings obtained from Amazon Echo owners. The report comes from Bloomberg which suggests that the recordings are used for improving the capabilities of the voice assistant where they are transcribed, annotated, and fed back into the software.
These ‘facilities’ for Alexa improvement have been established in various places around the world including Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania. While it is a matter of concern, Google and Apple have been practicing this for a while now. People familiar with the review process have said that much of the work “mundane,” though employees have sometimes come across more private recordings, such as a woman singing off key in the shower or a child screaming for help.
Certain employees have apparently heard recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal. In such situations, Amazon claims to have procedures in place and some employees have been told that it is not the company’s job to interfere.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said, “We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. 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.”