Having a nice conversation with Alexa? Beware!
It’s not new that most big companies spy on us and listen to our conversations, using our data in their own purposes. Looks like Amazon is jealous of Facebook privacy violation scandal and decided to reveal their own. So much for AI technology. Of course, they claim it’s a common practice among developers of voice assistants since “human” analysis of audio recordings is one of the main ways to train a machine to understand people correctly.
According to the Bloomberg report, thousands of Amazon employees around the world listen to voice recordings made in the homes of Amazon Echo speakers. The company assured that it is necessary in order to improve the quality of speech recognition, and only a small part of the records from around the world get into the sample. Let’s hope they are the “right” ones.
Seven anonymous Amazon employees who are aware of the company’s voice record processing methods have told Bloomberg what might concern Amazon Echo owners.
A part of the records that get to Alexa is then sent to the actual workers. Teams work in different parts of the world: from Boston to Costa Rica, as well as in India and Romania. The tasks of the staff include audio transcription, its division into semantic parts, the addition of annotations and the subsequent return to the system with all the additions. The shifts last for 9 hours, during which the workers manage to process up to thousands of audio recordings.
Most of the work the staff has called “routine”. Imagine, for example, one of the workers had to keep track of the mentioning of “Taylor Swift” in the records and add an annotation explaining that it is referring to a popular singer. It sounds like a dream job, right?
However, in some cases, staff members get personal records that are not always pleasant to listen to: we are talking about a woman singing notes in the shower, or calling for a child to help.
The teams have internal chats, where they can ask for help from colleagues with messages decoding. But more importantly, they can share a funny record or, on the contrary, the one that causes stress. Employees say it helps relieve mental stress. Does it make you feel better, though? Knowing that some douchebag in Romania will laugh at your nasty conversations?
Two employees told Bloomberg that they heard records probably related to crimes. Although Amazon claims that there are certain scenarios for such cases, and some employees who reported to the authorities on such issues were advised not to interfere. Well, it’s great to know that if Alexa hears you getting killed, nobody will bother! That’s your damn business. They are here for the fun stuff.
The users of Alexa can prohibit the use of their voice recordings to improve the service, but some simply do not know that such options exist. In addition, Amazon does not mention in advertising that employees can listen to the recordings.
Using some recordings to improve the voice assistant is common practice. Apple has employees who listen to Siri requests. And if that’s news for you, you are dumb. Google also has employees working with access to audio from Google Assistant to improve the product. But Google, like Apple, removes personal information and distorts the sound. Like it’s supposed to make us feel better.
Amazon doesn’t seem to delete all of your personal information. Employees see account numbers, user names, and device serial numbers. And although the Echo speaker is designed to collect audio only after contacting a voice assistant, employees who spoke to Bloomberg said that they often hear audio files that seem to have started recording just like that. Overall, don’t mess with Alexa! It will spill all your tea!