Today, you can find smart speakers in many homes across the United States. They play music or games, tell you about the weather, or even tell you some new jokes (not necessarily good ones). However, many people remain on the fence about the devices. Along with their popularity, concern also grows about the possibility of others listening in. As it turns out, someone actually is listening.

Machine Learning Isn’t All Machine

Amazon touted Alexa’s machine learning late last year in an article from Wired. Amazon rattled off stats about 25% improvements in accuracy and more. Machine learning isn’t the only reason for this improvement. We’ve heard the phrase “machine learning” so much, we forget that it doesn’t replace the need to be taught by humans somewhere in the process. Consequently, a recent Bloomberg article surprises us more than it really should.

Alexa Voice Review Process

A team of Bloomberg reporters interviewed seven people. These seven worked within an Amazon program known as the Alexa voice review process. This program is comprised of thousands of Amazon employees around the world.

Along with machine learning, they work to improve Alexa behind the scenes. These employees listen to actual Echo recordings to ensure Alexa’s ability to understand what’s being said. They transcribe, annotate, and feed the notes back into Alexa’s software. In a single day, one employee may review as many as 1,000 audio clips.

Occasionally, employees share files with other team members via internal chat. They may need assistance with making out a word or phrase. The audio clip may contain something funny or even disturbing. Two workers mentioned hearing what they believed to be sexual assault. When reporting the incident to superiors, they were simply told Amazon can’t interfere.

You Can Opt Out… Or Can You

According to Amazon’s website, no recordings are made unless the wake word is spoken. You can delete any of those recordings made by your Alexa devices. Amazon provides instructions here.

Amazon also provides the ability to opt out of allowing your recordings to be used for feature development. Despite that, it doesn’t disable recording. Additionally, Bloomberg states that Amazon may analyze those recordings by hand anyway.

Not Amazon’s First Spy Ring

Really, this news shouldn’t surprise anyone. Earlier this year, we wrote about Ring employees spying on its customers. The story is nearly identical, and Amazon owns that company also. We’re beginning to wonder… what are you up to, Amazon?

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