Amazon confirms it is listening to Alexa recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices

“Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening,” Matthew Day, Giles Turner, and Natalia Drozdiak report for BloombergQuint. “Sometimes, someone is.”

“ Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands,” Day, Turner, and Drozdiak report. “The team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania, according to the people, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program. They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, according to two workers based at Amazon’s Bucharest office.”

“One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as ‘Taylor Swift’ and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist. Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help,” Day, Turner, and Drozdiak report. “Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Most of us here suspected as much from the get go, you know, because we think, and we know just how horribly user privacy has been handled by some companies in the past.

Most distressing is that, according to Bloomberg, “the recordings sent to the Alexa auditors do not provide a user’s full name and address but are associated with an account number, as well as the user’s first name and the device’s serial number.”

So, these recordings are perfectly identifiable. Users should think about where they have their Amazon Echo and Alexa-capable devices in their homes and offices and what they could hear, record, and transmit.

Of note, Bloomberg also reports:

Apple’s Siri also has human helpers, who work to gauge whether the digital assistant’s interpretation of requests lines up with what the person said. The recordings they review lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier, according to an Apple security white paper. After that, the data is stripped of its random identification information but may be stored for longer periods to improve Siri’s voice recognition. At Google, some employees can access some audio snippets from its Assistant to help train and improve the product, but it’s not associated with any personally identifiable information and the audio is distorted, the company says.

Bad news for those who want Facebook listening in their homes: Facebook delays smart speaker debut amid data privacy scandal – March 29, 2018
Google Home Mini spies on everything reviewer said 24/7, transmits recordings to Google’s servers – October 12, 2017
Amazon Echo murder case spotlights question of what ‘always on’ actually means – December 28, 2016
Apple: Hey Siri and Live Photos data stays only on your device to ensure privacy – September 12, 2015


      1. Not the same. Read the article:
        “Apple’s Siri also has human helpers… recordings they review lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier, according to an Apple security white paper.”

    1. Unfortunately, the dumb people who don’t give a sh¡t about their privacy also don’t give a sh¡t about anyone else’s privacy. Just like when a friend uses Gmail – your replies are spied on as well. So what do we do? Refuse to go into any house or office with home spy devices? Refuse to have a phone conversation with any Android user? Refuse to participate in the modern world? I reckon it’s all pretty f*cked.

  1. GOOGLE IS EVIL !!!!!
    You are a fool if you rely on Alphabet/Google for any of your daily communications or information.
    Nothing is FREE………….. EVER.

  2. There is no amount of money, treasure, or other consideration that could entice me to put hardware made by Amazon or Google in my home. Never. Ever. If that’s the inevitable future, gonna find me a cave somewhere. This more than any other reason is why Apple gets my money every time.

  3. The NSA, The black box in your car, Smart TV microphones, facetime camera’s, my neighbors, Doctors, Insurance companies, outdoor camera’s of any kind, all creep me out.
    Idiots will say “what do you have to hide?” Yeah, ever go through a wicked bad divorce? Hide Everything. Deny everything.

  4. Always remember the source…Bloomberg. So while this sounds plausible, the accuracy of the story cannot be counted on. They are the same people who still maintain that nefarious chips were built into motherboards of Apple servers.

  5. Absolutely love the MacDailyNews audiences comments, both good, bad, and indifferent. I would say drop Siri and change it to Lisa or just Apple… Apple – what time is it, Apple – what’s the forecast, Apple – did the Cowboys win?

  6. I see the tinfoil hats are out in unison. Good for them, glad they’re watching.

    I really, really hope Alexa reported back what I think about Trump.

    Ca Ching!
    Sadly, probably didn’t.

  7. The question is when are the units recording information. Is it when you activate the system and make a request. Or is it a random times outside of activation.

    The former is fine because you know you are talking to the unit. I have no problem having Siri record Rhodes requests for improving the performance.

    The latter is unacceptable. No device should be recording when not activated. They can listen for the prompt to activate but that is all and it can not be recorded for future use.

  8. Sadly we are in an age where most younger consumers will happily sacrifice a little ‘potential’ privacy for more features and quality. Alexa is just way way better than siri – and don’t get me started on HomePod as a smart speaker ecosystem – Echo has killed it out the box.

    Personally, I rate the chance of someone listening to my chats through alexa as ridiculously low. And – if they did – so what? They’d hear a few chats about cooking, sports and the occasional kid fight. I’m not a criminal and don’t ever intend to be. Alexa is incredible. Breaks my heart that Apple didn’t see where the puck was skating to 4 years ago.

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