The MIT Technology Review reported in 2018 that Amazon Alexa home assistant devices may actually be listening in on people’s daily lives even when not given commands. Despite such warnings, the e-commerce giant sold out of Alexa-powered devices before Christmas as their popularity continues to grow unabated.
The MIT Technology Review reported in an article titled “Yes, Alexa is recording mundane details of your life, and it’s creepy as hell,” that Amazon Alexa home assistant devices are listening in on people’s conversations, a theory that has been around for some time but has never been confirmed.
The MIT Technology Review reports:
Beyond all the things I’ve clearly asked Alexa to do, in the past several months it has also tuned in, frequently several times a day, for no obvious reason. It’s heard me complain to my dad about something work-related, chide my toddler about eating dinner, and talk to my husband—the kinds of normal, everyday things you say at home when you think no one else is listening.
And that’s precisely why it’s terrifying: this sort of mundane chitchat is my mundane chitchat. I invited Alexa into our living room to make it easier to listen to Pandora and occasionally check the weather, not to keep a log of intimate family details or record my kid saying “Mommy, we going car” and forward it to Amazon’s cloud storage.
The MIT Technology Review notes that constant recording is one of the unfortunate downsides of home assistants that constantly listen for wake words such as “Alexa!” or “Hey, Siri!”
Through 2019, Amazon faced continual bad news about its Alexa-powered devices on the subject of user privacy and security. Reports were published showing that Amazon employees and contractors located in India, Costa Rica, and Romania had ready access to users’ recordings and spent nine hours a day listening to the snippets.
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.
This revelation led to a lawsuit against Amazon which claimed that Jeff Bezos’ Big Tech giant was breaking the law by recording children without their parent’s consent.
In another threat to security, researchers in Tokyo documented that Amazon’s voice assistant hardware could be hacked with a $5 laser pointer.
Despite the negativity about Amazon’s devices recording users when they don’t expect it, sales of Alexa-powered devices have continued to rise. Early in 2019, Amazon announced that it had sold 100 million Alexa devices. Sales haven’t slowed down since then. Although the company has not released Christmas sales figures, for the third quarter of 2019, it sold more than 10 million devices and enjoys a 36 percent share of the market. It’s next closest competitor, the Chinese company Alibaba, has a 13 percent market share.
Breitbart News has previously published a guide explaining how to stop Amazon employees from having access to Alexa recordings, however, this does not stop the device from recording users’ daily interactions but rather protects them from being listened to by Amazon employees directly. Read the full guide here.