TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Alexa is always listening. That's according to workers at Amazon.
Teams stationed around the world listen to and transcribe recordings, then send them back into the Echo’s software to erase the gaps in Alexa’s ability to understand speech, a report from Bloomberg said.
Sometimes the employees can even hear chatter in the background while Alexa is on, but they are not authorized to speak about their work, Bloomberg reported.
"They might fine-tune their voice recognition. They might fine-tune what you're asking for to help imporove their A.I. and their intelligence and make sure what you're asking for is what it gets," said Jacob Lott, a technician with the Computer Doctors in Tampa. "They're doing it to intuitively learn what people are asking for, so the process is good. The scary is that they just didn't have people opt into it, which I'm sure a lot of people would have if they knew."
The workers, who range from contract to full-time employees, reportedly have signed nondisclosure agreements and listen to up to 1,000 audio clips per nine-hour shifts.
Although Amazon reportedly has procedures in place for when potential criminal conduct is heard, two workers in Romania told Bloomberg that they were told it isn’t Amazon’s job to interfere. In other cases, the workers said they use internal chat rooms to share recordings they find amusing.
When workers come across a background conversation about personal information – like bank details – they are supposed to make the audio file as “critical data” and move on, according to Bloomberg.
Some Echo owners are uncomfortable knowing someone might be listening to them, while others aren't worried about it.
"I feel it's an invasion of my privacy to be listening in to my conversations," said Ginger Anderson of Seminole. "The idea that they're going to analyze them so that they can then use that information to provide more options, I question that."
"I think the good outweighs the bad," said Annette Chapa. "It's made it easier. It really has and I'm going to be 64 in May and it's nice to be able to have something do a few things for you or tell you where to go."
In a statement to Fox News, an Amazon spokesperson said:
“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," "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."
Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant also have human workers that listen to snippets of audio, but the companies reported to Bloomberg that the recordings aren't linked to personally identifying information.
“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,” Amazon told Fox News.
Alexa users can disable their voice recordings for developing new features by following these steps:
-Open the Alexa app and click the menu button.
-Tap “Alexa Account," then select “Alexa Privacy.”
-Next, choose “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.”