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#1 User is offline   grimreefer 

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Posted 14 January 2019 - 08:36 AM


“Alexa, play some music” isn’t the only time Amazon is listening to you.

The Startup
Jason T. Voiovich
Jan 8

Amazon’s voice recognition software only listens when you say the word “Alexa,” right?

That’s what most Echo and Dot buyers think because that’s what the advertising leads you to believe. As if by magic, your Alexa-enabled device “wakes up” when you say its name. But think about that for a moment. After you say the magic word, your Alexa-enabled device must listen for your request, interpret it, and respond. Just how much does Amazon really listen to inside your home? How much you really know about how voice technology works when you unboxed your Alexa-enabled device?

(Fair warning: this is about to get awkward.)

You may have assumed your Echo or Dot listened and responded using the small computer housed inside the device itself. But that doesn’t make sense. The on-board computer simply isn’t powerful enough. And besides, Amazon continues to update the device. It must do this from a centralized server location. That’s the only place where there is enough computing power not only to interpret your request, but also to update Alexa with new “skills” from third-party vendors. That’s how your device now knows how to order a pizza. Amazon needed to partner with Domino’s Pizza (in the United States) to develop that interface.

Now that you know that your voice recordings are being sent via the internet to a centralized location, you may have assumed Amazon will need to store that data for some period of time — for example, to use its Natural Language Processing algorithms to interpret your request for a weather report (or to buy a pizza), gather that information, and then send it back to your device for it to speak the response. The transaction happens so quickly that you assume Amazon would have no reason to keep the recording of your voice any longer than a few seconds. Besides, is that even feasible? Think of how much storage space Amazon would require for all of the audio files. Is there really a database somewhere storing all your “requests for weather reports?”

Those are good questions.

Imagine for a moment that you were curious about what, precisely, your Amazon Echo or Dot device recorded in your home. Now that you know it’s listening, you’d like to know what it heard. To satisfy that curiosity and put your mind at ease, you ask Amazon to send you a copy of the data your device has collected since you bought it.

After a few weeks, you receive your audio files from Amazon. Imagine your horror as you open the attachments and begin listening to the recordings: A discussion of what to have for dinner, two children arguing over a toy, a woman talking to her partner as she gets into the shower. You weren’t really sure if Amazon would keep recordings at all. And if they did keep recordings, you thought your Echo or Dot recorded only your explicit requests.

But it gets worse. You don’t recognize any of the voices. With equal parts relief and horror, you realize you are listening to someone else’s Echo recordings!

As it turns out, all of your assumptions about voice technology were wrong.

This story isn’t a thought experiment. It is precisely what happened when a German citizen who requested his data files from Amazon under the European Union’s GDPR regulation. He expected to get a list of the products he has purchased, how he paid, and other commercial profile data Amazon compiled. Unlike my scenario, he wasn’t expecting audio recordings. He didn’t own an Alexa-enabled device. He shouldn’t have been getting any recordings, yet there they were.

According to the story originally reported by the German investigative magazine c’t, Amazon admitted the mistake, citing human error in sending him the wrong file.

(The statement fails to mention if the company notified the person whose data was shared. Also, Amazon was only compelled to comply with the request for data because the requestor was a European Union citizen. If you’re an American, or from anywhere outside the EU, good luck.)

In case any of the impact of the story escaped your notice, let’s take a moment to summarize what this all means in simple terms, shall we?

  • 1. Your Alexa-enabled device listens to you more than you think it does.
  • 2. Your Alexa-enabled device not only listens to you, but it is also records those sounds.
  • 3. Your Alexa-enabled device sends those recordings to an Amazon data center, where they not only use natural language processing algorithms to decode your speech and complete your request, but they also store those files in a centralized database for future use.
  • 4. At that data center, Amazon ­– one of the best data management companies on the planet ­– has a human process to respond to your data request.
  • 5. As the investigative reporting shows, this human process is prone to error.

To put it in even simpler terms, if you own an Amazon Alexa-enabled device, Jeff Bezos could be the least creepy person listening to you right now.




#2 User is offline   oki 

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Posted 14 January 2019 - 09:12 AM

Perhaps it's time to start taking Alexa into the bathroom? Coarse that b$tch might call the E.P.A. or U.N. Weapons of Mass Destruction team on me...


#3 User is offline   usapatriot 

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Posted 14 January 2019 - 04:15 PM

Only an idiot would spend their hard earned money on Alexa or any other device that can record everything you say and do. Amazon is getting rich by sharing your preferences to companies and you don't get a dime of that money. Google does the same thing. That is why I use www.DuckDuckGo.com for my internet searches (they don't track you) and www.protonmail.com for my free email service (they don't read your emails, every email is encrypted, and my emails will never be shared with anyone including the U.S. government...they are located in Switzerland). I highly recommend all RT folks to switch to these two services and tell everyone else to do the same. If everyone did this, Google would be out of business in a week (or they would change their services to stop their creepy surveillance and the censoring of conservatives in search results).

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