Why Thousands of Amazon Workers Are Listening to Your Alexa Exchanges

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Amazon workers around the world, from Romania to India and Costa-Rica, are employed just to listen, curate and annotate other people's audio clips sent via the Amazon Echo device, according to a report by Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg's report, staff reported hearing some distressing conversations but Amazon said it has procedures in place for such occasions.

An Amazon spokeswoman said audio files stored on its servers can be deleted by users at any time through the privacy dashboard and also suggested users set their Echo device to "Amazon Echo" or "computer" - instead of "Alexa" - to eliminate some of those errant recordings. Amazon indicates that the goal of doing so is tied to continuous improvement initiatives, with the objective of are trying to improve Alexa's speech recognition technology and to enhance Alexa's ability to understand human language and speech patterns. Working nine hours per day, Amazon employees check up to 1,000 audio clips daily, two workers from Amazon's Budapest division told Bloomberg.

Echo devices are created to detect only chosen wake words such as "Alexa", "Amazon", "computer" or "echo", a company spokesperson said in a statement to Benzinga. But she has a team of humans helping her improve her skills.

An explosive report from Bloomberg has revealed that your clips have potentially been heard by thousands of Amazon employees.

Alexa users can disable their voice recordings for developing new features.

Amazon said in its frequently asked question section that it uses "requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems". It also notes that employees don't have direct access to identifiable information about users.

According to the study, nearly 60 per cent of survey respondents said they'd be more likely to buy a new auto from a specific vehicle company if it had the same voice assistant as they use in their homes. Workers also allegedly use an internal chat room to share recordings they need help transcribing or recordings they find amusing. Amazon reportedly told them it wasn't the company's job to interfere.

Amazon insists it has a zero tolerance policy for "abuse of our system" and claims to use multi-factor authentication and encryption to protect customer recordings during the annotation process.

Predictably, Amazon says that it takes users' privacy seriously and that only a small number of audio snippets are listened to.

"You don't necessarily think of another human listening to what you're telling your smart speaker in the intimacy of your home", Florian Schaub, a professor at the University of MI who has researched privacy issues related to smart speakers, told Bloomberg.

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