Report: Thousands of Amazon Workers Listen to Your Alexa Conversations

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, laughs as he speaks at a Washington, DC, event in September 2018. (Cliff Owen/AP Photo)
Cliff Owen/AP Photo

A report from Bloomberg News claims that Amazon workers are listening to your conversations with your Alexa device.

According to the report, thousands of Amazon workers are listening to the conversations that Alexa devices are having with their owners.

The workers are primarily based in Amazon facilities in Boston, Costa Rica, India, and Romania. The workers spend nine hours each day sifting through various conversations to ensure that Alexa understands what users are saying.

The team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania, according to the people, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program. 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. The modern facility stands out amid the crumbling infrastructure and bears no exterior sign advertising Amazon’s presence.

According to the report, these workers are hearing more than just the users Alexa prompts. Workers reported that they heard one user singing in the shower and a child screaming for help.

The work is mostly mundane. One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as “Taylor Swift” and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist. Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.

Two workers claim that they heard what they believed was an ongoing sexual assault. The workers were told by Amazon management that it wasn’t their role to violate the privacy of their customers.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson claimed that the company only reviews a small portion of Alexa conversations. “We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously,” the Amazon spokesman said in the statement. “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.”

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