Amazon Employees are Listening to What People Tell Alexa

Some people are wary of smart speakers because they suspect they could be listening to them in their homes. According to a new report, it turns out that in some cases they’re right. Bloombergwrites that thousands of Amazon employees around the world listen to voice recordings captured by Echo owners’ devices in order to help improve Alexa, the digital assistant that powers them. The voice recordings are transcribed, annotated and fed back into the software to help improve Alexa’s understanding of speech and help it better respond to commands. Bloomberg said the workers listen to as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, and use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help figuring out a muffled word. They also use the chat room to share funny recordings, and sometimes hear things that Echo users likely wouldn’t have wanted them to. No audio is supposed to be stored by people’s Echo unless it hears the wake word, but Bloombergsaid Alexa will sometimes mistakenly began recording without a prompt, and the workers are required to transcribe that audio too. Amazon said in a statement that only a, quote, “extremely small sample” of voice recordings are listened to, adding, “We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system.” (Bloomberg)