Amazon has changed the settings on its Alexa app to allow users to stop their voice recordings being reviewed by the company’s employees. The policy change, which was announced on August 2, comes amid growing concerns surrounding the privacy risks posed by AI voice assistants.
Alexa records every exchange users have with Echo speakers and other devices so that Amazon can assess the assistant’s success in fulfilling user commands
Alexa records every exchange users have with Echo speakers and other devices so that Amazon can assess the assistant’s success in fulfilling user commands and improve its performance.
Previously, Amazon did not inform users that their audio recordings might be listened to by its human workers. Then, in April, a report by Bloomberg confirmed that Alexa’s services can only improve thanks to human review by thousands of its employees.
This process – known as data annotation – is a core part of machine learning. It ensures that data collected by the device can be correctly labelled and fed back into the system. This helps Alexa improve its understanding of slang and regional dialects.
According to Amazon, “only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed”. However, since such reports have emerged, privacy advocates have called on tech companies to increase transparency around – or even halt – the practice.
A number of high-profile incidents have increased concerns. In July, one of the contractors hired by Google to review voice recordings leaked more than 1,000 Google Assistant recordings to the Belgian media.
Tech companies are starting to give in to pressure from regulators. Google has paused human review of audio recordings in the EU while it liaises with privacy regulators and Apple has paused the process altogether.
Amazon, meanwhile, is simply creating a clearer opt-out system. In a similar vein, the company also introduced an “Alexa, delete what I say today” voice command in May. Amazon’s latest move is a sign that tech companies are taking steps to improve transparency and give users more control over their data.