Amazon Pays Thousands of People to Listen to Alexa Voice Recordings
They listen to, transcribe and annotate the things we say when the smart assistant is listening.
This story originally appeared on PCMag
When interacting with Alexa, you aren't talking to a human, but that doesn't mean to say other humans won't hear what's said. In fact, Amazon has thousands of people listening to our Alexa voice recordings every day.
It may, or may not come as a revelation to you that what's said in the vicinity of an Alexa smart speaker or display can be recorded and sent back to Amazon. As Bloomberg reports, there's a big human element to Alexa, and it's vital for the smart assistant to continue getting better at its job.
Amazon employs thousands of people whose task it is to transcribe, annotate and then feedback into Alexa's underlying software anything learned from specific recordings. This is a full time job for individuals scattered around the world, with confirmed locations in Costa Rica, India, Romania, and closer to home in Boston.
A nine hour shift will see each employee listen to up to 1,000 voice recordings. Their task is to identify the human speech Alexa doesn't fully understand and add the required extra information to ensure Alexa can respond more adeptly in future. By having thousands of people carry out this process daily, Amazon is relentlessly improving its smart assistant to handle any and all requests for all regions of the world. Customers can help too, though.
The workers do occasionally hear upsetting and potentially criminal recordings, which are discussed in internal chat rooms and fed back to Amazon if necessary. However, Amazon's stance is apparently one of not interfering. The workers also have no way of identifying who they are listening to as any personal or account information is removed.
According to an Amazon spokesperson, "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."
Bloomberg also discovered that even though Alexa is only meant to listen and record when the "wake word" is spoken, that's not always the case. One of the workers spoken to said up to 100 recordings are being transcribed every day when Alexa was triggered by something other than the wake word.
For anyone who uses Alexa and is concerned about these recordings, you can stop them from being listened to. In the Alexa Privacy Settings there is a "Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa" section where you can decide whether your voice recordings are used to "help develop new features" and/or "help improve transcription accuracy." Opting out of those should stop your recordings being listened to by Amazon employees or contractors.