Amazon Employees Listen in to Thousands of Customers’ Alexa Recordings: Bloomberg

A team at Amazon that includes both full-time employees and contractors reportedly listens to people’s audio snippets recorded by devices with the company’s Alexa assistant installed.

Amazon customers have complained that their privacy has been violated after it emerged that the company employs hundreds of people to listen to recordings of them speaking to their Alexa devices, reads a new report from Bloomberg.

According to the report, Amazon employees in Romania, India, Costa Rica, and the United States are given recordings of some people speaking to their Alexa devices in order to verify that the virtual assistant is correctly understanding them.

The program, called the Alexa voice review process, has employees transcribe and annotate Alexa recordings. While much of the work is described as “mundane,” such as listening in for phrases including “Taylor Swift” to give the voice assistant context to commands, other clips captured are more private — including the example of a woman singing in the shower and a child “screaming for help.”

Bloomberg noted that a FAQ site detailing concerns about the Alexa software does not mention specifically that human beings would have access to audio files recorded in users’ homes. “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” the webpage reads.

An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg that precautions are taken to ensure that Amazon employees do not have access to identifying information about the owners overheard in the audio clips, and stressed that proper privacy protections were being observed. In Alexa’s privacy settings, the company allows users to disable the use of their voice recordings for the development of new features.

“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.”

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” the spokesman added. “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience.”