Have you ever had a conversation with someone about something you wanted to buy, then saw an online ad for it only a few minutes later on Facebook or in Gmail? It’s something that happens to many people on a regular basis, so much so that many of us wonder if our phones are being used as recording devices to spy on our conversations. But while it may just be coincidence that we often see ads right after having a conversation, there’s at least one instance in which it isn’t just coincidence.
The Amazon Echo is a smart speaker device that connects to Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant service known as Alexa. Similar to the Siri service that was pioneered by Apple, Alexa is a voice-activated service. It is designed to act as a household smart device. Whether it’s playing music, controlling internet-connected home devices, ordering items online, or providing traffic and weather information, Alexa is designed to ease the burdens of daily life.
But new information indicates that potentially millions of conversations overheard by Alexa are recorded and transcribed every day by human employees. That should give anyone who jumped into Alexa some cause for concern.
Amazon has hired thousands of contractors around the world to record and transcribe conversations overheard by Alexa and then feed them back into the software in order to improve Alexa’s ability to understand human speech. Conversations are recorded once the “wake” word is heard, which may or may not be obvious to the people being recorded. The microphones on the Amazon Echo are always on, so the device has the capability to record conversations at any time. Some contractors are recording thousands of conversations every day, so the total number of conversations recorded could very well reach into the millions per day, which is a frighteningly large figure.
While users have the ability to opt out of the conversation recording feature, many may not even realize that they can do that. This is just another reminder that rushing to adopt bleeding-edge technologies may not always be the best option, as there may be significant privacy issues that haven’t been sorted out.