Security fears raised as Alexa listens to conversations to train its AI

Security fears raised as Alexa listens to conversations to train its AI

Security fears raised as Alexa listens to conversations to train its AI

Reporters for Bloomberg have revealed that thousands of Amazon workers around the world spend their days listening to recordings from Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, in order to improve the technology.

But Alexa users can opt to disable the software allowing Amazon employees to listen to the recordings, CNBC reports.

In its report, Bloomberg quotes as its source, "seven people who have worked on the program".

The team at Amazon that listens to the conversation comprises of a mix of full-time and part-time employees who work from far off places like Costa Rica, Romania and even India.

It's reported that the workers have a chat room for when they can't make out words or phrases and want help from colleagues.

Numerous audio clips Amazon's employees have come across could be considered "mundane", Bloomberg reported, but sometimes the recordings possibly captured something "upsetting" or "criminal".

Amazon last night confirmed the revelations when approached by Bloomberg saying that "an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings" are analysed by staff.

She said employees do not have direct access to information that could identify the person or account and all information is treated confidentially, including the use of multi-factor authentication to restrict access as well as service encryption.

Though this seems like a gross violation of personal privacy, Amazon seems to think otherwise.

When customers speak to Alexa, Amazon's artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant, somebody may be listening in, according to a new report. Bloomberg report said, "Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault". The goal of the task is to better help Amazon understand human speech and understand commands.

Workers said they were set high-pressure targets that made them feel they could not go to the toilet and sometimes pushed them to cut safety corners.

"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. If during the transcribing, the workers discover a recording with personal information, like banking details, they are reportedly supposed to mark the recording as "critical data" and move on.

"By default, Echo devices are created to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo)". The kids' voices are also recorded and stored in the cloud for future reference, helping the toys "learn".

In a list of FAQs Amazon does admit it uses consumer requests to train Alexa's speech recognition and natural language understanding systems. Google's voice assistant employs humans with access to a few audio clips, but the company claims those are not linked to any personally identifiable information and the audio itself is distorted.

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