The Student News Site of Fluvanna County High School

Amazon Might Be Storing Your Private Conversations

April 30, 2019

If you own an Amazon Alexa, those private conversations you have at home might not be as private as you thought.

Amazon recently confirmed that they have tens of thousands of Amazon employees located all around the world that listen in on your conversations taking place after you say the wake word. According to Amazon, when Alexa hears the wake word, which can be Alexa, Amazon, Echo, or Computer, it stores all of the following commands and sends them to the cloud.

“This information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems so Alexa can better understand your requests and ensure the service works well for everyone,” said an Amazon spokesperson. Once the data is sent to the cloud, the employees listen to some of the recordings. A recent Bloomberg article said that the recordings are “transcribed, annotated, and then fed back into the software as a part of an effort to help eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”

According to Bloomberg, the company also uses an internal chat room where they share some of the recordings. The chat room was created as a way for employees to help relieve stress that may be caused when they hear some of the things on the recordings. The chat room was also created as a way for employees to get help understanding a word. The employees also share recordings that they find funny. But apparently, some of the employees also discover some recordings that they find upsetting, such as sexual assault. According to Bloomberg, “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.”

Amazon said that they “take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience,”  but if you find that hard to believe and are looking for a way to stop your recordings from being sent to Amazon, you can change the settings on your Alexa to prevent this. Go into your Alexa app on your phone, go to settings, click “Alexa Account” then “Alexa Privacy.” After doing that, go to “Manage how your data improves Alexa,” then switch the “Help develop new features,” button to off. Then turn the switch under “Use messages to improve transcriptions,” to off.

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About the Contributor
Photo of Maddy Eubank
Maddy Eubank, Fluco Beat Editor

Maddy is a senior in her second year of Journalism. She likes to write and hang out with her friends.

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