Thousands of Amazon workers are listening to recordings of Echo users

Lloyd Doyle
April 11, 2019

According to a Bloomberg report, Amazon employs thousands of workers to transcribe recordings of Alexa users for the goal of improving the voice assistant's recognition algorithm.Credit: AmazonThe recordings don't include your full name or address, but they are linked to your account number, your first name, and your device's serial number.

So are thousands of Amazon workers all over the world, according to a report from Bloomberg.

Among more sinister content the workers have heard, have been a child screaming for help and two instances were they believed they heard a sexual assault taking place. The workers also have no way of identifying who they are listening to as any personal or account information is removed.

But Gus Dimitrelos, a retired U.S. Secret Service special agent who now works as a cyber security consultant, said changing the name of your Amazon Echo won't protect your privacy.

"Amazon characterised the number of recordings that actually are analysed by humans as "an extremely small sample" in a statement to Bloomberg, adding that it was exclusively for the objective of "[improving] the customer experience". The trillion-dollar company insists the process "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".

They continued: "We have strict technical and operational safeguards and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system". According to the company, "employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account" during the annotation process, but Bloomberg's sources provided screenshots showing that listeners actually receive an account number, device serial number, and first name of the user associated with an audio clip. Amazon reportedly told them it wasn't the company's job to interfere.

Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment from Business Insider.


There are also a few nonsense recordings generated by the nearby television on record - including a man talking about his dog and politics mentioned once or twice - and while they may be seen as acceptable recording errors, the idea of an unknown human listening in may be enough to make you uneasy.

Staff would then share some recordings among themselves through an internal Amazon chat room when they were hard to understand - or if they found them amusing.

Concerns have been raised by some in the past that smart speaker systems could be used to listening into to user conversations, often with the aim of targeting users with advertising.

For what it's worth, Amazon isn't saving recordings of Echo users behind their backs. You also can't access music on an Amazon Music Unlimited Single Device Plan, if that's what you subscribe to.

Siri records voice commands given through the iPhone and HomePod smart speaker.

Once connected, you can group supported Echo devices to create a multi-room music system that plays throughout the home.

Fraudsters could then use this live audio feed to collect sensitive information from the device.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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