[Updated] Amazon employees are tasked with listening to what you ask Alexa

Business / Security / Tech

From soundbars to smart televisions and everything in between, you’re sure to find one of those two assistants on a device.

Smart assistants have become more popular over the past few years. Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana are all being used more than ever before. Alexa and Google Assistant are probably the two largest voice assistants in use because they’re implemented into hundreds of different devices.

UPDATED (04/12/2019): We received the following statement from Amazon regarding this article:

By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo). The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button).

Amazon Spokesperson

Original Story Continued:

From soundbars to smart televisions and everything in between, you’re sure to find one of those two assistants on a device. The technology behind digital assistants is still developing and Amazon is using real employees’ to help in that development. The company has tasked some of its workforce to actually listen to what you ask Alexa.

Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.

The Alexa voice review process, described by seven people who have worked on the program, highlights the often-overlooked human role in training software algorithms. In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching.

Bloomberg

According to Bloomberg, the Amazon teams that work on listening to your Alexa queries are based all around the world. From the United States, Costa Rica, India, and Romania the company has ears on a lot of what you say in your home. Bloomberg reports that Amazon requires these employees’ to sign nondisclosure agreements preventing them from speaking about their jobs.

They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, according to two workers based at Amazon’s Bucharest office, which takes up the top three floors of the Globalworth building in the Romanian capital’s up-and-coming Pipera district.

Bloomberg

According to Bloomberg, employees’ have said they do hear portions of conversations captured after the wake word is detected from customers’ Echo devices that people assume are private. Those conversations range from every day, we need milk and eggs, to conversations some employees’ found, “disturbing.”

“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings 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.

“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 spokesperson via Bloomberg

If you want the full in-depth story, you can head over to Bloomberg at the source link below and read the entire report. It certainly is interesting.

What do you think of Amazon employees listening to your Alexa queries? Let us know in the comments below or on TwitterFacebook, or MeWe.

 Source: Bloomberg
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