Amazon has repeatedly denied Alexa, which is an increasingly common feature in smartphones, speakers from third-party manufacturers and other connected devices as well as the company's own Echo smart speaker range, is always listening to user conversation, reiterating it only begins recording audio once it hears its default "wake word" "Alexa". Tech analysts say that this is because Amazon Alexa does not require a dedicated hardware chip to wake the device and start recording - unlike some other voice assistants. Staffers have also raised the alarm when overhearing distressing situations like a child calling out for help, and instances where a sexual assault might have occurred. They put in nine-hour days and may go through as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift.
In a statement, Amazon said it took security and privacy seriously and only annotated "an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings".
According to an Amazon spokesperson, employees listening to conversations don't have access to a particular user's name and address.
"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". The workers were told by Amazon management that it wasn't their role to violate the privacy of their customers.
Alexa does not now allow owners to opt out of voice recording but individuals can block such files being used for further product development or delete archived recordings. But turning it off will also prevent your recordings from being sent to Amazon to be analyzed - however, Amazon says "people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process", Bloomberg noted. Their task is to identify the human speech Alexa doesn't fully understand and add the required extra information to ensure Alexa can respond more adeptly in future. "We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems", Amazon says in its frequently-asked questions page for Alexa-without mentioning the human element.
Amazon doesn't exactly advertise the human role in its AI assistant. When that happens, the reviewers tick a box that marks the recording as "critical data" and then continue to the next clip. There are, unfortunately, times where people hear things they shouldn't. Google's voice assistant employs humans with access to a few audio clips, but the company claims those are not linked to any personally identifiable information and the audio itself is distorted.
Now, Amazon is at the center of a potentially massive data scandal which suggests workers, not just artificial intelligence, are listening to Alexa voice commands.