Amazon employees eavesdrop on what you tell Alexa: How to stop them

Scared that someone can hear what you say to your Alexa devices at home? Well, according to recent news reports, you should be.

Your commands are being recorded and transcribed

According to an article by Matt Day of Bloomberg, an Amazon team listens to voice recordings of things users have said to their Echo speakers.

“The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software,” Day writes. “As part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.”

Employees listen to roughly 1,000 audio clips per shift, most of which are mundane, according to past employees.

The Alexa logo, Apr. 2019. (Microsoft)

The employees vent to each other in an “internal chat room” and help each other to understand muffled words or listen to amusing recordings. The chat room also functions as somewhat of a therapy group for those who witness the occasional recording of what employees think is sexual assault.

“After requesting guidance for such cases,” Day writes. “They were told it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.”

They are more concerned for their customer’s privacy than anything else.

Other smart speakers are listening, too

A second edition Amazon Alexa, Apr. 2019. (Target)

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

It is not just Alexa that sends your voice to employees, but most other smart speakers, too. 78 million smart speakers were sold last year, and most of its owners are unaware that they are being recorded and listened to by employees

Amazon says that Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.”

According to Amazon’s website, no audio is recorded and transcribed unless woken up by a “wake word” or activated by pressing a button. Some Echo users, though, have reported Alexa turning on by herself “without any prompt at all.”

How to stop her from listening

To prevent any of your voice recordings from being listened to, follow these steps:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the menu button on the top left of the screen.
  • Select “Alexa Account.”
  • Choose “Alexa Privacy.”
  • Select “Manage how your data improves Alexa.”
  • Turn off the button next to “Help Develop New Features.”
  • Turn off the button next to your name under “Use Messages to Improve Transcriptions.”

According to Aimee Picchi of CBS news, an Amazon spokesperson claims that they only use an “extremely small number” of customer recordings in order to improve the service.

To avoid being in that “extremely small number” of users, follow the above steps before saying another word to your smart speaker.

Shelly Slocum is a department head for the Daily Runner.