Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Requests for Improvement Purposes [Updated]

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  1. MacRumors macrumors bot

    MacRumors

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    Amazon has thousands of employees around the world that listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners, reports Bloomberg.

    Voice recordings are captured when the Alexa wake word is spoken and then a subset of those recordings are listened to, transcribed, annotated, and added back into the software as part of Amazon's effort to help Alexa better respond to voice commands. Amazon has facilities for Alexa improvement in places that range from Boston to Costa Rica, India, and Romania.

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    Seven people familiar with Amazon's review process spoke to Bloomberg and revealed some insider details on the program that may be concerning to Echo users.

    While much of the work has been described as "mundane," employees have sometimes come across more private recordings, such as a woman singing off key in the shower or a child screaming for help. Amazon employees have internal chat rooms where they share files when help is needed parsing a word or, more concerning, when an "amusing recording" is found.

    Two workers told Bloomberg that they've heard recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and while Amazon claims to have procedures in place for such occurrences, some employees have been told it's not the company's job to interfere.
    Alexa users have the option to disable the use of their voice recordings for improvements to the service, but some may not know that these options exist. Amazon also does not make it clear that actual people are listening to the recordings.

    According to Bloomberg, recordings sent to employees who work on Alexa don't include a user's full name or address, but an account number, first name, and the device's serial number are associated with the recording.

    In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said that an "extremely small" number of Alexa voice recordings are annotated and that there are measures in place to protect user identity.
    It is standard practice to use some recordings for product improvement. Apple has employees who listen to Siri queries to make sure the interpretation of a request lines up with what the person said. Recordings are stripped of identifiable information, however, and stored for six months with a random identifier.

    Google too has employees who are able to access audio snippets from Google Assistant for the purpose of improving the product, but Google, like Apple, removes personally identifiable information and also distorts audio.

    Amazon does not appear to be removing all personally identifiable information, and while the Echo is meant to collect audio only when a wake word is spoken, the employees who spoke to Bloomberg said they often hear audio files that appear to have started recording with no wake word at all.

    Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings. Additional details on how Amazon uses the voice recordings it collects can be found in the original Bloomberg article.

    Update: Amazon has provided the following statement to MacRumors as clarification: "By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo). The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button)."

    Article Link: Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Requests for Improvement Purposes [Updated]
     
  2. RedGala macrumors regular

    RedGala

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    Comical. People laugh at Apple for not having good "Machine learning" / voice assistance when it's really just other companies sucking every byte of personal data to make the "user experience" better.
     
  3. AngerDanger macrumors 601

    AngerDanger

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    What an abhorrent violation of user privacy! :mad:

    Oh, well then, it's all cool. Carry on. Gotta purposely improve things, yeah?

    :rolleyes:
     
  4. Klae17 macrumors 65816

    Klae17

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    Is there an option to enable voice recordings to be sent to Apple when the user says "Goddammit Siri you suck!"
     
  5. jonblatho macrumors 6502a

    jonblatho

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    Disgusting.

    I received a free Echo Dot when moving into my current building, tried it out a couple times, and almost immediately sold it.
     
  6. BasicGreatGuy Contributor

    BasicGreatGuy

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    If only some people realized what they are giving up (re: personal information and privacy) for the sake of Amazon and Google products. The sad thing is, many do know and just don't care.
     
  7. GuruZac, Apr 10, 2019
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2019

    GuruZac macrumors 6502a

    GuruZac

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    Incredibly unacceptable. What the hell is wrong with these large tech companies completely trampling on customer privacy.
     
  8. vipergts2207 macrumors 68000

    vipergts2207

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    Interesting ethics conundrum here. Peoples’ right to privacy versus protecting someone from something as potentially brutal as sexual assault.
     
  9. maxfromdenmark macrumors regular

    maxfromdenmark

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    I have mixed feelings about it. Privacy is important but on the other side Siri works so bad because of so Apple’s privacy policy.
     
  10. realtuner macrumors 6502

    realtuner

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  11. Aloft085 macrumors regular

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    Should be opt-in only, and we should have exact control over what they can do with it.
     
  12. melancholy macrumors 6502

    melancholy

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    Siri is really good. I don’t know why, but she always gets what I’m saying wrong on older devices though.

    Apple needs to give her more actions, and they need to open her up and have third-party developers insert in Her their own custom actions.
     
  13. cmaier macrumors G5

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    #13
    Someday the stories will be horrifying enough that even the otherwise disinterested people may appreciate apple’s approach.

    This comes close.
     
  14. synergize macrumors regular

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    I bet I know what the late George Carlin would say to Alexa, something to do with the number 7!
     
  15. BasicGreatGuy Contributor

    BasicGreatGuy

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    #15
    Do you want to use Apple products, or would you prefer to become the product, so that apps like Siri work better?
     
  16. geoff5093 macrumors 68020

    geoff5093

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    #16
    Do you not use any Amazon or Google product or service? A lot of people say this, but use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google Search, Amazon, etc. So your data isn't really that private if you use these, even with an iPhone.
     
  17. badatusernames macrumors member

    badatusernames

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  18. BasicGreatGuy Contributor

    BasicGreatGuy

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    No, I do not.
     
  19. cmaier macrumors G5

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    #19
    I tried Alexa on my Sonos. It was worse than Siri and I turned off the mics. Let’s not assume that invading privacy necessarily improves the product.
     
  20. geoff5093 macrumors 68020

    geoff5093

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    #20
    Interesting, so no Amazon Prime, Amazon Video, Google Search, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.?
     
  21. Suttree macrumors regular

    Suttree

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    I stand with Amazon. They are an honest company run by an honest man. I have nothing to hide. They have no agenda other than to deliver the best speaker with the best voice assistant, which, I might add, is something Apple FAILED to do with the HomePod. And we all know how shady Apple is. Their privacy stance is a farce.
     
  22. BasicGreatGuy Contributor

    BasicGreatGuy

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    #22
    Apparently, Google and Amazon seem to think there is some merit to listening in.
     
  23. imageWIS macrumors 65816

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    #23
    you're kidding right? THis is standard MO for most massive companies. They think they are above the law, and in the USA, they mostly are.
     
  24. ipponrg macrumors 65816

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    Funny, you would have to be living under a rock to think this doesn’t happen at all.

    Let me guess... Apple uses AI to curate and understand everything, right?
     
  25. cmaier macrumors G5

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    Which means what? They also find merit in classifying us into micro categories and targeting us with ads. Does that make them awesome or something?
     

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