Amazon is doing very well in the booming smart speaker market with its popular Alexa-powered line of Echo devices. Amazon had moved 100 million Alexa devices as of January 2019, and as speakers gain popularity, more issues are arising that consumers should be aware of.
A new report claims that Amazon has thousands of workers who have the sole task of listening to the audio recordings from Alexa devices. Amazon has teams around the world that listen to recordings, transcribe them, and send them onto the Echo team to fill gaps in the speech recognition capabilities of the devices.
The report claims that sometimes the workers can hear chatter in the background of the recordings they are working on, but the report says that the workers aren't allowed to comment on what they do. Amazon has people working on listing and transcribing the records that are both contract and full-time, and all sign non-disclosure agreements. These workers listen to up to 1,000 audio clips during each nine-hour shift.
Amazon is said to have procedures in place for workers who hear potential crimes in the recordings. However, workers in Romania have reported that Amazon's stance is that it isn't their job to interfere according to Bloomberg. Workers also allegedly use an internal chat room to share recordings they need help transcribing or recordings they find amusing. If during the transcribing, the workers discover a recording with personal information, like banking details, they are reportedly supposed to mark the recording as "critical data" and move on.
Amazon maintains that it takes the security and privacy of Alexa device users seriously and "only annotates an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers." Amazon says that the annotation allows it to train speech recognition and natural language understanding for its systems and that it has strict safeguards in place. California has a privacy bill making its way through the state legislature that would prevent any storing of conversations on servers of device makers that might make this practice illegal in the future.