For those who own this intriguing device, Alexa substitutes as a missing member of the family. It’s a helping hand, story narrator, entertainer and even household manager as Alexa listens to your commands and completes given tasks pretty intelligently. Even the most advanced consumers connect Echo with their intelligent phones — lights, garage doors, thermostats, and locks — and use the device as a control center for home automation. However, leading business news agency Bloomberg recently reported that, “Amazon’s Alexa Team Can Access Users’ Home Addresses.” The report claims, “Amazon team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”
On the other hand, Alexa owner Amazon suggests that access to internal tools of the voice assistant is highly controlled. That it is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small snippets of the audio clips.
Google and Apple have already suspended their voice data-review practices till the word comes out on this issue. Amazon has quietly updated its settings by allowing its users to manually opt-out of their voice recordings being reviewed by the company’s internal staff or contractors. You can find this option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app that disables human review of any recordings.
What Amazon Says About Alexa-Related Privacy
Amazon has always maintained that their AI-powered Alexa is “work in progress”, and needs human interference to improve its capabilities, however, it is scary that thousands of Amazon employees are interpreting your voice recordings to serve you better. Unaware, a lot of talking happens when Alexa is powered on, thus, recording personal data, sometimes. These recordings do contain distinguishable characteristics and biographical information about the speaker and can be misused by a malicious third party or even by an employee.
Is AI going to be lethal to our privacy?
Millions across the globe use voice-based software to interact with digital assistants on their smartphones. Aman, Founding Member at Javis Technologies, affirms that AI is a powerful technology with many applications in business and the social sector. “Be it Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa, our dependency on these digital assistants is quite noticeable”, he says. With rising concerns around privacy risks impersonated by voice AI technologies, it is inevitable but to question how AI is trained as it becomes an obvious part our daily lives. He wants people to embrace it and give it some time to fully understand it.
Aman believes that if people have concerns in the interim, government may regulate to address the concerns. Vaibhav Mittal, Director – Panoramic Solutions, agrees that every technology has its pros and cons. According to him, “Digital voice assistants have in fact made life easier as it allows you to call people and even plays your favorite song at any time of the day.”
What’s Going Wrong, Really?
The hidden problem here is not that the audio is being recorded, but the fact that the company doesn’t inform the users about the recordings, and even if it does, it is somewhere lost in the terms & conditions sections, which we honestly don’t have the time to read. The tricky part is that we have been habituated to think that these cloud-based machines have magic wands that will attend to all our commands, but we do forget that these do require manual processing to serve us better. Although the company states that only a selected group of people have access to the audio clips stored in the smart devices, it’s nevertheless important for users to be cautious of the presence of an AI-powered device listening to everything that is being said around them.