A new report by Bloomberg reveals that what you say to Amazon's Alexa may not be as private as you think. The report points out that Amazon employs the services of thousands of people around the world to listen to recordings captured by the Echo speakers.
These recordings are then transcribed, annotated, and fed back into the Amazon system to train Alexa to better understand human speech, and to improve its responsiveness to commands. Some of the people working on this project are full-time Amazon employees, others are employed by contractors around the globe. As the report suggests, humans are still an integral part of training machine learning algorithms.
A lot of times the work is largely mundane, but sometimes the workers pick up recordings of private or even possibly criminal events:
Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.
Amazon claims only an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings is annotated to improve the customer experience.