1. TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users. Ask a question and give support. Join the community here.
    TechSpot is dedicated to computer enthusiasts and power users.
    Ask a question and give support.
    Join the community here, it only takes a minute.
    Dismiss Notice

Thousands of Amazon workers are listening to your Alexa conversations

By midian182 · 18 replies
Apr 11, 2019
Post New Reply
  1. Bloomberg writes that Amazon employs thousands of contractors and full-time workers around the world, “from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania,” to listen to voice recordings captured by Echo devices. These are transcribed and annotated with the aim of improving the performance of digital assistant Alexa, helping the AI better understand human speech.

    Bloomberg spoke to seven people that worked on the program, who revealed they reviewed as many as 1,000 clips per shift. The process is described as mostly mundane, with one worker trawling through voice data for any mention of “Taylor Swift” so it could be annotated to show the searcher was referring to the musician.

    We’ve long known that smart devices can be triggered accidentally. According to the auditors, they transcribed as many as 100 recordings per day where no wake command was given.

    It’s reported that the workers have a chat room for when they can’t make out words or phrases and want help from colleagues. This is also used to share “amusing” recordings, it's claimed. Additionally, the employees occasionally hear what sounds like crimes taking place—two workers say they heard what's believed to have been a sexual assault—but some were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.

    Amazon does state in its privacy policy that it may use Alexa requests to train the AI, though there’s no mention of this process being carried out by humans. And it’s not just Amazon that does this, Apple and Google also use workers in the same way for improving Siri and Google Assistant. All companies say the clips lack personally identifiable information.

    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.”

    Permalink to story.

     
  2. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,377   +3,772

    And just another good example why their products will never find their way into MY home!
     
    FPSChris, lexster, Underdog and 2 others like this.
  3. NicktheWVAHick

    NicktheWVAHick TS Addict Posts: 148   +118

    Fortunately, I Airbnb my home so the only people being “heard”, “watched” or otherwise “hacked” are my patrons.
     
  4. ShagnWagn

    ShagnWagn TS Guru Posts: 722   +559

    "We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously"

    Notice the words "We take"... As in, steal. "We steal seriously."

    Notice they never said they wouldn't share it with anyone else. Just that it's "serious".

    No way in hell would I have one of these types of devices in my home. It is disgusting and disturbing.
     
    Underdog, lumbeeman and SBKenn like this.
  5. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 3,124   +1,617

    Well, I'm going to play devil's advocate and say, "I don't care." I have 3 Echo devices in my home and use the hell out of them. And don't have a problem with them listening to us. Because I pity the worker-bee assigned to listening to mine and my gf's conversations in an effort to make a better device. I just hope they have PLENTY of coffee on hand to keep that employee awake.
     
    brucek and Carljames like this.
  6. QuantumPhysics

    QuantumPhysics TS Evangelist Posts: 1,235   +894

    I would never buy any of these speakers to place in my kitchen, my living room or my bedroom.

    My Xbox One has Kinect, but it's in a room facing a wall.

    My desktop has a webcam/mic I unplug till I wanna use it.

    Even in the remote possibility of my devices being accessed to eavesdrop on me, they'd get very little usable info.
     
  7. Misagt

    Misagt TS Maniac Posts: 286   +204

    A spying device is being used to spy on people? No! that just can't be! Everyone know tech companies are powered by rainbows and unicorns. This must be fake news.
     
    Underdog and SBKenn like this.
  8. lumbeeman

    lumbeeman TS Enthusiast Posts: 25   +24

    I have one that given to me as a gift. It is sitting under my desk, not connected and collecting dust.
     
  9. SBKenn

    SBKenn TS Rookie Posts: 18

    The Orwellian nightmare. Many smart TVs are also listening.
     
    FPSChris and Underdog like this.
  10. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 2,231   +1,424

    I've went from hating on Uncle Sam for spying to liking it.
    I mean cmon, if you got a smartphone, your already giving them all your info anyways.
    Whats some more going to hurt?

    Me and my fiancée keep the big Alexa in our kitchen, and I am sure they can hear my dark barking, random sexual episodes with my goat and my bi-annual watch of Lords of The Rings and The Hobbit.
     
  11. Underdog

    Underdog TS Addict Posts: 105   +57

    Oh Lord, protect me from large corporations trying to "improve my user experience".
     
  12. brucek

    brucek TS Maniac Posts: 166   +207

    I'm surprised it's "thousands" of people working on this, but the general idea that developers need to figure out how to make their services work does not surprise or frighten me. And if as I assume this training is done with no connection to my actual name, etc. this is probably more private than many of life's transactions.

    People forget that for all of human history getting anything done required the other people involved knowing about it. You were seen at the local market, helped by people at the local market, helped by trades people, etc all of whom knew you, knew the people you know, and likely did at least some gossiping about it. Modern life is arguably a lot more anonymous at least as far as your actual neighbors and people who know you personally go.
     
  13. Aux101

    Aux101 TS Enthusiast Posts: 43   +6

    Quote: Additionally, the employees occasionally hear what sounds like crimes taking place—two workers say they heard what's believed to have been a sexual assault—but some were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.

    Seriously!
     
  14. Markoni35

    Markoni35 TS Booster Posts: 187   +90

    Corporations working closely with NSA and other spying agencies are spying on their customers??
    No way!!
     
  15. Knot Schure

    Knot Schure TS Addict Posts: 266   +113

    Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
     
  16. Knot Schure

    Knot Schure TS Addict Posts: 266   +113

    My brother's also.
     
  17. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,377   +3,772

    I must admit that I did seriously think of buying one .... and install it in the bathroom, turning it on at only the most apropos moments but I was afraid that I'd start laughing so hard I would knock it into the can and electrocute myself ..... sighhhhhh ........
     
  18. brucek

    brucek TS Maniac Posts: 166   +207

    A truly fantastic quote that unfortunately is being badly misused in this instance.

    The quote is about the importance of government not curtailing the liberty of its citizens even in the face of something as critical as their potential safety. It is deep and profound.

    The use of it in regards to an optional commercial product whose value is rarely more than recreation or convenience could not be farther from what that quote is trying to get at. As consumers, we already do enjoy the right to choose whatever household conveniences we want, including none; and as entrepreneurs, investors, and workers we enjoy the right to try to make a living by offering products that others may want. This is exactly what liberty looks like.
     
  19. Lew Zealand

    Lew Zealand TS Guru Posts: 659   +552

    Good luck with that. I have yet to see my Mercedes-Benz show up.
     

Add your comment to this article

You need to be a member to leave a comment. Join thousands of tech enthusiasts and participate.
TechSpot Account You may also...