Amazon Employees BUSTED: Listening to Alexa Conversations

When I think of Amazon, I think of Cyberdyne Systems in the film, Terminator.

At some point Amazon will get so large, distinguishing them from big government will be impossible. And Alexa looks like the perfect way to begin.

A device that listens to every conversation or command? Why not allow Joe Biden to have unfettered access to your wife and children while you’re at it?

The Patriot Act sneaked in surveillance on Americans. However, with Alexa you give permission to the company to eavesdrop on you. Essentially Americans invite the NSA into their homes, all for the sake of convenience.

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As the Motley Fool reported:

While their job is to “help improve” NSAlexa – which powers the company’s line of Echo speakers – the team “listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices,” which are then transcribed, annotated and fed back into the software in order to try and improve Alexa’s understanding of human speech for more successful interactions. In other words, humans are effectively helping to train Amazon’s algorithm.

In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching. -Bloomberg

The listening team is comprised of part-time contractors and full-time Amazon employees based all over the world; including India, Romania, Boston and Costa Rica.

All locations in foreign countries, including Boston.

Anybody who knows their politics understands that Boston for the most part resembles little in the real America.

The article continues,

Listeners work nine hour shifts. Each may reveiw as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift according to two employees from Amazon’s Bucharest office – located in the top three floors of the Romanian capital’s Globalworth building. The location “stands out amid the crumbling infrastructure” of the Pipera district and “bears no exterior sign advertising Amazon’s presence.”

While much of the work is boring (one worker said his job was to mine for accumulated voice data for specific phrases such as “Taylor Swift” – letting the system know that the searcher was looking for the artist), reviewers are also listening on people’s most personal moments.

Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording. -Bloomberg

Occasionally Amazon listeners come across upsetting or possibly criminal recordings – such as two workers who say they listened in on what sounded like a sexual assault.

According to the report, when things like this happen the workers will mention it in the internal chat room to “relieve stress.”

As the article suggests, what else could Alexa listen to?

Perhaps a discussion of a tax deal? Or a person discussing very personal private things?

There was one case where Alexa called a couple’s employee by accident. Nothing came of it. But what if the couple discussed firing that employee? Or perhaps other confidential company information?

According to the article, people shouldn’t be concerned about the eavesdropping.

And while Amazon says that it has procedures to follow when workers hear distressing things, two of the Romania-based employees say they were told “it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere” when they requested guidance for such instances.

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” said an Amazon spokesman in a statement provided to Bloomberg.

“We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems. So, Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone,” the statement continues. “We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.”

That said, Amazon does not mention the fact that humans are listening to recordings of some of the conversations picked up by Alexa. Instead, they have a generic disclaimer in their FAQ that says “We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems.”

The world’s richest man, CEO Jeff Bezos hates President Trump. Ergo, he hates Conservatives. Now he potentially knows what happens in every Alexa home?

Can you say, “IRS targeting of Conservatives” with me? And what of Facebook, Twitter, and Google? All will seem benign in comparison to what Alexa knows.

If the government is Big Brother, then Alexa is our Big Creepy cousin.