If you have an Alexa device you’ve probably heard it respond even when you didn’t say “Alexa.” You may have laughed at Alexa when it tries to answer a question you didn’t ask. Or you may have found Alexa’s interruption creepy.
Either way, you may want to find out what Alexa has responded to when it shouldn’t have.
Alexa should only listen to conversations after hearing its prompt word, “Alexa.” You can change the prompt word to “Amazon”, “Echo”, or “computer” but Alexa’s listening should only start when the prompt word is heard.
Yet sometimes Alexa mistakenly hears a prompt and starts listening, even though you didn’t say the prompt. The words you say after Alexa hears a prompt are heard and recorded by Alexa. So by Alexa mistakenly hearing a prompt, it is listening to and recording conversations you may not have realized were being heard by Alexa.
Amazon Reviewers Listening to Alexa Conversations
Last week, Bloomberg reported that Amazon employs people around the world to listen to conversations that Alexa records. Based on seven sources, Bloomberg reporters learned that Amazon workers listen to Alexa recordings of conversations, then transcribe and annotate them to improve its accuracy in responding to commands.
See, Bloomberg Amazon Workers Are Listening to What You Tell Alexa
Working nine-hour shifts, Amazon workers can review up to 1000 conversations a day, and often hear boring conversations. But sometimes they hear conversations that can be disturbing and perhaps criminal. According to Bloomberg, Amazon offers a chat room for its workers to relieve stress but does not encourage reporting conversations to the authorities.
Amazon responded in an email to Bloomberg’s request for comment, explaining that only a very small sample of Alexa conversations are reviewed:
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.”
According to Bloomberg, reviewers are not given the full name or address of the people whose conversations are being played. But Amazon does provide reviewers with the Amazon account number, the user’s first name and the device’s serial number.
How to Find Out What Conversations Alexa Has Recorded
In The Wonder of Tech article How to Find Out What Amazon Alexa Has Recorded — And Delete It you can learn how to find conversations Alexa has recorded in your Alexa app. But since that article was written, Amazon has changed what you can see in the app.
No longer does the app show you conversations that Alexa recorded accidentally. To find those you now go to Amazon’s Privacy page and go to Review Voice History.
There you can see a list of recordings Alexa has made from your devices, including the ones that were recorded without the proper prompt. Those recordings have a warning that says “Text not available – audio was not intended for Alexa.”
You can listen to the recordings and delete them, if you wish. You can also read transcripts of the recordings Alexa made that were in response to a prompt. Amazon does not provide transcriptions of conversations that don’t start with a prompt.
Amazon has access to these recordings from Alexa and, presumably these recordings are available to workers whose task it is to listen to them. While Amazon says it only reviews a small sample of these recordings, you may not want your Alexa conversations listened to by others, whether you intended to summon Alexa or not.
Let’s say you don’t want Amazon to use your recordings to improve Alexa’s accuracy. Head to the Amazon Privacy page, then to Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa.
Turn off “Use Messages to Improve Transcription.”
The Bloomberg article explains that opting out may not prevent your Alexa conversations from being reviewed by Amazon employees. “The company says people who opt out of that program might still have their recordings analyzed by hand over the regular course of the review process.”
How to Prevent Amazon Reviewer from Listening to Your Alexa Conversations
So it appears the only way to truly prevent Amazon employees from listening to your conversations is to prevent Alexa recordings from happening in the first place.
To block Alexa from recording your conversations, you can turn off the microphone on your Alexa device. Or you can unplug the device.
This may be helpful when you’re discussing sensitive information, such as financial information, passwords, etc. Or if you don’t like the idea that someone could be reviewing your conversations, even though you didn’t say”Alexa” first.
Are you okay with Amazon using its employees to review recorded Alexa conversations? Vote in The Wonder of Tech poll:
Are you concerned that Alexa is recording your conversations, even when there isn’t a prompt? Are you concerned that Amazon reviewers are listening Alexa conversations? Does this make you less likely to use Alexa?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!