The Amazon staff listen to the recordings and transcribe them, before annotating them to provide feedback which is created to improve the capability of Amazon's Alexa digital assistant by helping it understand human speech more effectively.
On top of that, Bloomberg reported that snippets of things said to Alexa are accompanied by a user's first name and account number, as well as the smart speaker's serial number. As Bloomberg reports, there's a big human element to Alexa, and it's vital for the smart assistant to continue getting better at its job.
The team that works on Alexa has a mix of contractors and Amazon employees who work from various countries including Boston, India, Costa Rica and Romania. Staffers have also raised the alarm when overhearing distressing situations like a child calling out for help, and instances where a sexual assault might have occurred. Employees interpret as many as 1,000 audio clips in a 9-hour shift.
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A spokesperson for the company released the following statement: "We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously". We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience.
Amazon insists it has a zero tolerance policy for "abuse of our system" and claims to use multi-factor authentication and encryption to protect customer recordings during the annotation process.
The report has Amazon's people listening to voice recordings in locations "around the world", feeding information back into the system to allow it to learn. In fact, there's a team of thousands of people helping Alexa to gain this knowledge.
"You don't necessarily think of another human listening to what you're telling your smart speaker in the intimacy of your home", Florian Schaub, a professor at the University of MI who has researched privacy issues related to smart speakers, told Bloomberg.
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What else have they heard?
According to the workers Bloomberg talked to, they sometimes get to listen to recordings with sensitive information or those that were clearly recorded in error. Google has reviewers that train Assistant, but the clips don't have any personally identifiable information and the audio itself is distorted to prevent any identification.
Amazon's website lists in the frequently asked questions section that Alexa requests can be used for speech recognition training. Employees at Apple also manually curate audio recordings to make Siri smarter in speech recognition every day.
Apparently, the second you say "Alexa" it instantly starts recording your request and is sent to Amazon.
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