According to the Information, Amazon is considering opening up access to private transcript data from its Alexa devices to third-party developers, raising concerns of privacy for users.
Amazon’s Echo system was one of the first mass-marketed home assistants available, giving it a head start over other devices such as Google Home. However, while Amazon currently does not allow developers access to everything users say, Google Home does; with Apple moving into the market as well, Amazon cannot afford to lose the lead it gained early on.
At the moment, developers making apps that will use Alexa are only permitted to see non-identifying information, such as location data, how often users talk to their devices, and how many times a specific “skill” is used. If full transcripts were visible to developers, the greater amount of data could be put to use in order to improve and fine-tune their applications.
Skill developer Ahmed Bouzid, an ex-product head for the Alexa team, said that the current access only gives developers “7o percent of what they need to know.” However, according to the Information, some teams already have full access to all the data that Alexa gathers; it is unclear who is exempt from the standard limitations or why.
If Amazon were to go ahead with handing over full transcripts, it would certainly cause unease with users aware of the potential breach of privacy. Not only could developers see exactly what they have been saying or searching for, but anyone malevolent enough to hack their systems could do as well. Last year, then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned that not only would such developments “pose challenges to our cyber defenses and operational tradecraft but also create new opportunities for our own intelligence collectors.”
Amazon’s previous actions don’t seem to bode well for those worried about their privacy. In April, Amazon’s newly launched Echo Look contained a “Style Check” feature, that would let strangers judge your outfits by uploading photos of them to internet, causing some to remark on the creepiness of such an application.