Alexa is listening
No, the photo above is not a new photo of a black hole. It is the Amazon Echo Dot in the 'do not listen' mode. For those who may have wondered if the major tech companies behind the smart speakers may listen in, the answer is: yes.
Bloomberg recently published an article about Amazon teams in various countries listening in to improve the software of the device. Other companies with smart speakers, such as Google's Home and Apple's Homepod (Siri), also use human assistance to train their systems.
Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening.
Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.
This raises questions about safeguarding the privacy of the owners of smart speakers. According to Amazon’s website, no audio is stored unless Echo detects the wake word or is activated by pressing a button.
But sometimes Alexa appears to begin recording without any prompt at all, and the audio files start with a blaring television or unintelligible noise. Whether or not the activation is mistaken, the reviewers are required to transcribe it. One of the people said the auditors each transcribe as many as 100 recordings a day when Alexa receives no wake command or is triggered by accident.