Amazon has thousands of employees who listen to users’ recorded commands to improve the algorithms of voice assistant Alexa. Of course, they do get to hear a lot of sensitive material that way.
Bloomberg has gathered a number of testimonies from which it becomes clear that a team of thousands of Amazon employees listen in on recordings of everyday conversations. The recordings were made with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant. They are then transcribed and commented on by Amazon employees in order to improve the software.
While most recordings are rather mundane and harmless, the employees do get to hear all kinds of things, from people singing out of tune in the shower to sounds that indicate violence or children screaming for help. According to two employees, one of their recordings even clearly registered as a rape.
According to Amazon, there are strict procedures to deal with such sensitive material, but the two employees say that Amazon doesn’t act on such cases, since the company doesn’t consider it part of its duty.
An Amazon spokesperson has already responded, saying that the company only listens to and transcribes a small sampling of Alexa recordings. In addition, it’s impossible to find out who can be heard in these recordings.
Amazon has never officially communicated that its staff listens in on conversations. So far, they’ve always simply maintained that recordings may be used to improve the software. On the other hand, Alexa users do have the ability in the settings to turn off sharing sound clips.