The news that broke Wednesday night was sure to make some Alexa users feel uneasy: Apparently, human workers at Amazon have been listening to what some people have been telling their smart speakers, in an attempt to help improve Alexa's software. These workers listen to up to 1,000 audio clips during each nine-hour shift. The modern facility stands out amid the crumbling infrastructure and bears no exterior sign advertising Amazon's presence. The problem is she's always listening - and so are thousands of Amazon workers, according to a report.
The work is mostly mundane.
The report indicates, however, that the content in those recordings can be quite serious: Two workers that Bloomberg spoke to detailed what they believed to be a recording of a sexual assault. Workers also allegedly use an internal chat room to share recordings they need help transcribing or recordings they find amusing.
Alexa software is created to continuously record snatches of audio listening for its wake word, Bloomberg alleged, adding that clips assessed by workers included what they believed to be sexual assault and a child screaming.
A hot potato: Smart speakers have become incredibly popular over the last few years, but many people still have concerns over the devices' privacy implications.
Amazon employees have been secretly listening back to and mocking the things that customers ask Alexa and are sharing recordings of them in internal chat rooms, it has emerged.
"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 goal of "[improving] the customer experience".
The terms and conditions for Amazon's Alexa service state that voice recordings are used to "answer your questions, fulfil your requests, and improve your experience and our services". "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", the spokesperson said.
Others told the news agency that each auditor may encounter as many as 100 recordings a day in which Alexa does not appear to have been deliberately activated by a user with a wake word or command (such as pressing a button).
A new report from Bloomberg highlights the human labor that goes into making Amazon's Alexa voice assistant - which comes built in to every Amazon Echo speaker - a little smarter.
Two "reviewers", the employees who listen to and transcribe the sound, were interviewed by Bloomberg. Amazon reportedly told them it wasn't the company's job to interfere. However, these audio samples are not associated with any personally identifiable information.
But if the wake word is detected, the audio is kept and recording continues so that the customer's request can be sent to the voice recognition service. And it's not just Amazon that does this, Apple and Google also use workers in the same way for improving Siri and Google Assistant.