Smart devices like Amazon’s Alexa have made life easier allowing her owners to handle tasks such as adding items to their shopping lists or turning lights on and off remotely. But there has always been a suspicion that the device is listening and recording everything that is said without the owner’s knowledge. Amazon has previously denied this, until now.
Amazon finally admitted that they employ thousands of people with the sole purpose of listening to Alexa conversations. The company claims this isn’t to be malicious or to pry into an owner’s personal life, but instead, it’s done to make it easier for Alexa to understand the human voice.
According to Bloomberg, the conversations are transcribed and then fed back into the software in the hopes of helping Alexa to understand owners’ requests. Employees are reportedly a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees.
The Daily Mail reported that seven employees spoke to them under anonymity, which broke their non-disclosure agreement, admitting that a usual shift consists of transcribing around 1,000 conversations and feeding them to Alexa.
These employees disclosed that it isn’t just simple conversations that they must listen to. In one instance, the employees claimed that they heard what appeared to be a sexual assault. In another, one employee recalls hearing two children cry out for help for hours.
Teams reportedly use in-house chat services to discuss matters amongst each other, especially if they had just heard something that could be considered “stressful.” Bloomberg approached Amazon about the claims, and Amazon agreed that they do listen to recorded conversations but these are “an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings.”
A company spokesperson stated: “We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.”
This is a far cry from the company’s previous stance on the matter where they adamantly denied that they listened to or recorded conversations. This could make people think twice before letting a smart device into their home.