Amazon staff listen to recordings of what you say to Alexa

Amazon staff listen to recordings of what you say to Alexa

But sometimes, Bloomberg reports, a copy of the audio is sent to a human reviewer at one of several Amazon offices around the world.

According to a report Bloomberg published this week, Amazon uses an army of workers to listen to audio clips of customers who use Alexa, its artificial intelligence-powered digital assistant found in the popular line of Echo smart speakers and other devices. The device's serial number and the user's account number are typically left in.

The company employs "thousands of people around the world" to listen to people talk to Alexa via Echo speakers, Bloomberg reports. The team of full-time workers and contractors from countries such as Costa Rica, Romania, and the United States, reportedly transcribes the voice commands they hear, which are then fed back to the software to improve Alexa's "understanding" of human speech.

Amazon's teams even have chat rooms where they can get help with tricky transcriptions, or share amusing snippets, according to Bloomberg.


They also described hearing distressing clips such as a potential sexual assault. Amazon says they only listen to and annotate a very small percentage of Alexa recordings, and any personal information like bank account numbers or addresses are supposed to flagged by employees as being "critical data" and deleted.

"We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously", Amazon said in a statement.

The company says they have "strict technical and operational safeguards" to protect privacy and a "zero tolerance policy" for the abuse by employees. But, two employees based in Romania said that they were told it was not Amazon's job to interfere. In the case of Alexa, that means thousands of workers listening to private voice recordings.

The objective of the entire process is to gather data to help the algorithm that powers Alexa to better understand the intricacies of human language. That's perhaps the most common fear associated with devices with microphones, and a huge part of what's fueled increased scrutiny on how companies handle data collected by their smart products.


A family member said she received a call from an employee of her husband who urged them to unplug their Amazon Echo devices, which use the Alexa software. Employees at Apple also manually curate audio recordings to make Siri smarter in speech recognition every day.

"We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems", the company says in a list of frequently asked questions.

As a result, workers occasionally hear things they shouldn't.

Amazon's Alexa privacy settings do not let you opt out of voice recording or human review, but you can stop your recordings being used to "help develop new features".


"By default, Echo devices are created to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo)".

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