Employees of Amazon to listen to the conversations of users with Alexa

Many people are reluctant to introduce the speakers connected to their homes for fear of being listened to. In a way, this is the case. A Bloomberg survey revea

Employees of Amazon to listen to the conversations of users with Alexa

Many people are reluctant to introduce the speakers connected to their homes for fear of being listened to. In a way, this is the case. A Bloomberg survey reveals that Amazon employs thousands of employees across the world to listen to the conversations of users with Alexa, the voice assistant that powers the speakers Echo of the giant, and more than 100 million connected objects in the world. These employees work nine hours per day in offices in Boston, Costa Rica, India or Romania. It analyzes up to 1000 audio clips per day to transcribe and annotate their content. The goal is to improve the speech recognition tool in eliminating the gaps in understanding of the human word by Alexa and supporting them to better respond to user requests. An employee explains to Bloomberg have helped Alexa to understand better the name "Taylor Swift" in him, indicating that the user was talking about an artist of music.

the privacy of The users at Amazon

Among the type of clips to which the employees have access to the queries, but also recorded sounds such as a woman who sings badly in the shower. Problem: these files can be shared on an internal messaging system to help a colleague to better interpret a sentence, or to mock up a registration fun. Other extracts are sometimes more problematic. Two people who worked for Amazon and said they heard what sounded like a sexual assault. After having mentioned to their superiors, they were told that Amazon does not wish to respond to the situation. Yet the giant says that "procedures have been put in place" for this kind of situation. Finally, when the employees hear of the personal data such as bank details, they should be ticked just a dialog box stating "critical data" before moving on to the next audio file.

According to a spokesperson from Amazon, only "a very small sample of records is used to improve the user experience. It also specifies that employees may not directly access the information of identification of the persons or accounts associated with the records. "All information is treated with the utmost confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, encryption services, and audit of our control environment to protect it". However, the screenshots provided by the employees at Bloomberg show that failure to provide the full name and the address of a user, the records are still associated with an account number, as well as the first name of the user and the serial number of the device.

privacy Settings

Amazon mentions in its terms of use that the conversations of users with Alexa, are recorded to improve its virtual assistant. However, the giant does explicitly state that these conversations can be listened to by humans. And if the user can limit via the privacy settings of Alexa and the use that is made of these records, it can never prevent this transmission.

Alexa is designed to record streaming audio as soon as it hears the word of activation, or "Alexa" by default. This password can be changed. Once it is detected, the ring of light located at the top of the speaker turns blue, indicating that the device records and transmits a command to the servers of Amazon. The site of the giant says that no sound is stored unless the speaker is connected to the Echo does not detect the word of activation, or is turned on by pressing a button. But, it happens that Alexa starts recording without any request on the part of the user, or by accident. The voice assistant can in fact be wrong, especially with languages other than English. In French, it may confuse "its" with "Alexa", that is, his word activation. Each listener transcribed and up to 100 records per day, in these situations, according to a source from Bloomberg.

Improve the wizards voice

Amazon is not the only company to do listen to a part of these conversations to the humans to improve its speech recognition tool. This is also the case at Google and Apple with their own assistants voice, Google Assistant and Siri . To Apple's Siri, the records reviewed do not contain personal information. During the six months in which they are stored, they are tied to a random id according to a white paper on the security of Apple. After these six months, data are lacking their random id, but they can be stored for a longer period to improve the voice recognition of Siri. At Google, some reviewers can access audio clips of Google Wizard, but these are not associated with any personal information, and the sound is distorted, according to the company.

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Updated Date: 14 April 2019, 00:00

Kathleen Lees


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