Amazon workers eavesdrop on your talks with Alexa

The Echo Input turns dumb speakers into Alexa-capable smart ones.                  Tyler Lizenby  CNET

Amazon confirmed that employees listen to recordings of people's conversations with Alexa, CNN reported.

Thousands of Amazon employees and contractors can listen to what you say to Alexa via Alexa-enabled smart devices, like Amazon's own Echo smart speaker, according to a report from Bloomberg on Wednesday.

The Amazon staff listen to the recordings and transcribe them, before annotating them to provide feedback which is created to improve the capability of Amazon's Alexa digital assistant by helping it understand human speech more effectively.

Amazon's voice recordings are associated with an account number, the customer's first name and the serial number of the Echo device used. Amazon "human" workers are listening to conversations to improve its responses says Bloomberg in a new report.

Employees in Romania, India, Costa Rica and the U.S. are given recordings of some people speaking to their Alexa devices in order to verify that the virtual assistant is correctly understand them, according to Bloomberg. Workers also allegedly use an internal chat room to share recordings they need help transcribing or recordings they find amusing.

An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg: "We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously". We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience.

"We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system", the spokesman added. The group explained that all information would be strictly confidential and it will work with access restrictions and encryption.

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What exactly is Amazon Alexa listening for?

The employees who take on this job signed non-disclosure agreements who do not allow them to speak freely about the program and usually work in buildings that do not advertise the Amazon logo in any way, shape or form.

Amazon said it uses these conversations to improve Alexa's "understanding of human speech". The workers also have no way of identifying who they are listening to as any personal or account information is removed.

However, Amazon reasons that it does mention this fact under its frequently asked questions section, which states that users agree in helping train Alexa's speech recognition and language understanding.

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.

Most companies with voice-enabled products employ supervised learning, in which humans aid in teaching artificial intelligence to better sort and categorize data. According to Amazon, no audio from Alexa is stored unless Echo detects the wake word or is activated by pushing a button.

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