If you own an Amazon Fire TV or Firestick with Alexa support, there’s one important thing you need to know. First and foremost, do you believe your conversations with Alexa are private and confidential? Well, think again. Alexa is listening and saving all your conversations. Read on to find out how!
Alexa is Listening and Recording?
Amazon’s voice assistant has infiltrated our homes in many ways. It’s quite possible today to interact with Alexa on many devices. This includes Amazon’s Echo devices as well as Amazon Fire TV and Firestick. The more you rely on the convenience of using voice commands on your device, the more often you’ll be talking to Alexa. And the more the voice assistant learns about you and your overall entertainment preferences.
When Alexa is listening, she does indeed make our lives easier. It does this by performing a wide range of tasks most people consider to be time-consuming. For example, the latest update on Fire TV and Firestick allows Alexa to conveniently set your alarms and reminders. However, there’s one thing you might not be aware of about the Amazon voice assistant. Alexa is listening constantly to all the audio in your home. It records the conversations you have with her all the time.
Saying Hey Alexa
When you want to send a command or communicate with the voice assistant, you normally use the word “Alexa” or “Wake” to catch Alexa’s attention. However, a recent Bloomberg report showed that Alexa is listening to your conversations all the time. This is whether you use the command words or not. That means that Alexa is listening even when you aren’t communicating with her.
In two different reports by Bloomberg News and the Guardian, whistleblowers from Apple and Amazon claim that they had accidentally listened to intimate recordings of couples having sex via voice assistants. Another VRT publication describes how a Google subcontractor shared over 1,000 excerpts from Google recordings to identify specific people. The situation is no different with Alexa. She is always listening and recording your conversations.
You might think that this only happens to people with those fancy smart home hubs and not to Fire TV or Firestick owners. However, keep in mind that Amazon saves all those seemingly innocent conversations you have with Alexa on your Fire TV. That kind of information is privileged but they can use it for marketing or other purposes. You should be very concerned about your privacy too.
Amazon Employs People to Listen to Your Conversations
Millions of people around the world use Amazon’s smart speakers and voice software such as Alexa to do a lot of things such as playing games, search the web for music and entertainment content, and get a hands-free control over devices such as your Fire TV. However, what most people don’t realize is that the voice technology, in as much as it makes life easier, exposes your privacy because someone at the other end might be listening to your recorded conversations.
Amazon.com Inc. has a huge staff of thousands of real people across the world. They have the responsibility to improve the performance of its voice assistant, Alexa. The team actually listens to voice recordings saved from users’ homes and offices. This is to help Alexa communicate better with device owners. The voice recordings are normally transcribed and annotated before going back to Alexa. This is to help minimize the software’s misunderstanding of human speech and respond better to daily commands. It is all about creating better artificial intelligence (AI) devices.
According to seven people involved in the program, the Alexa review process highlights the human role in training AI software algorithms to understand our speech patterns. The team is made of full-time Amazon employees and contractors in diverse locations from Romania and India to Costa Rica and Boston, USA. For example, in the 3-floor Amazon office in Bucharest, the teams work for 9 hours each day parsing as many as one thousand audio clips in each shift.
What Does Amazon Say?
Amazon doesn’t openly admit that humans listen to recordings of its voice assistant, Alexa. They, however, state in their list of FAQs that “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.” This claim still doesn’t deny the fact that Alexa is listening, recording, and sending your conversations to Amazon.
Amazon gives you the option to disable voice recordings in Alexa’s privacy settings but still maintains that even after opting out of the program, your recordings may still be manually reviewed. A screenshot shared in the Bloomberg report showed recordings used by Alexa’s reviewer team. The recordings don’t have the user’s name and address but have the associated account number that can be used to identify the user’s serial number and personal details.
What Does Alexa Listen to and Record?
There’s a difference between listening and recording, although the words are often used interchangeably. Voice-controlled devices such as Alexa are always listening and waiting for the activation keyword, such as “Alexa” before they perform the programmed response. Since the whole purpose of Alexa is to respond to your commands instantly, it makes sense that she’s constantly scanning available audio for the “wake” word. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Alexa is constantly recording all the audio in your home.
Now that we know Alexa is listening, what does she record? According to Amazon’s FAQs, Alexa only starts to record conversations after you use the summoning or “wake” word. When you say “Hey Alexa” the device starts analyzing all the audio in your house. It records everything you say and sends it to Amazon’s cloud. This is where they have advanced algorithms that identify the words you are saying. It instantaneously relays the appropriate response to Alexa.
The Amazon cloud is designed to understand different accents, vocabularies, and speech clarity levels. So, every time you wake Alexa, the software’s smart speaker records your conversation. It creates an automated transcript that’s used to fulfill your request.
Does it matter if Alexa is listening and recording your conversations? Well, it does matter if you value your privacy. Information is one of the most valuable assets today. This is because companies can use it for diverse marketing and other God knows what purposes. The less information you give to AI-enabled devices the safer you are for you never know where the information will end up eventually.
The good news is that Amazon allows you to delete all Alexa recordings in your Fire TV or any other Alexa-enabled device. We highly recommend you make it a habit of deleting the recordings frequently in order to stay safe.