As if Facebook spying on us through our smartphones wasn’t enough, there’s another reason to be concerned if you value your privacy.
Amazon Alexa’s device is eavesdropping on you and anyone talking near the gadget!
Big data companies are paying HUGE amounts of money for what has become the new “digital gold” – people’s personal data.
Amazon’s devices (Alexa and Echo Dot) have made their way inside millions of American’s homes and are collecting private data (sometimes even sensitive information), all in the name of “product empowerment.” Hiding behind the ruse of manual activation recording, these devices are capable of registering anything (and everything) you say.
To better their services, Amazon employees have access to customer data recorded through the device’s always-on microphone.
Of course, the “wake word” that activates the recording has tricked many into adopting this sneaky technology, but it seems that it doesn’t always work as it should.
Do you remember when Alexa sent the recording of a private conversation to a random contact?
And this isn’t just an isolated incident. Alexa intuitively listens to what you say and can start recording even if you don’t speak the wake word.
People listening to their Alexa recording history (which is stored on Amazon servers) have discovered, besides phrases triggered by other words, messages that say “Text not available – audio was not intended for Alexa.”
This means that Alexa heard things that were not meant to be heard, things that were recorded without first speaking the wake word, and even things recorded without giving any command at all.
In a nutshell, these are all errors. And these errors are costing you your privacy. Even more, they can cost you your freedom, since courts are able to obtain these recordings with a warrant.
Amazon admits the technology is flawed, and although it claims the accuracy of Alexa’s wake up word increased by 50 percent over the past year, errors that put your privacy (and even your freedom) at stake still and will remain.
Are you willing to take this chance?
Furthermore, in order to improve their product, Amazon has an unnamed number of employees constantly reviewing your Alexa conversations.
According to an anonymous Amazon source who disclosed this surprising fact to Bloomberg News, employees have enough data freedom to easily discover your home address.
And if you think this privacy breach is minor, you might want to know that the platform’s backend also displays your phone number to whoever is responsible for reviewing data.
No reports of abuse by Amazon employees have surfaced so far, although it’s pretty clear that employees receive “unnecessarily broad access to customer data.”
“Team members with access to Alexa’s user’s geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.” – Bloomberg News
To snuff out concerns, Amazon said that only a limited number of employees have access to this broad data spectrum, although it failed to mention the exact number.
“Access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions,” said one Amazon spokesperson via e-mail.
There might be thousands of employees with such privileges according to speculations, so it’s likely only a matter of time before we hear about another invasive abuse.
To tackle this concerning scenario, Amazon has offered guarantees that their “policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of our systems.”
Furthermore, the e-mail read that Amazon supervisors “regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”
Although the company has shown great respect for its customers so far, there’s no saying how and when the artificial intelligence and human factors will get out of hand.
For now, it remains strictly a matter of customer preference if they wish to sacrifice privacy for the convenience these smart devices offer.
In my case, as someone who doesn’t even post personal stuff on social media (except for landscape photos), I will never consider inviting Alexa, Echo Dot, Apple’s Siri or Google’s Assistant into my home.
It’s up to you how much you treasure your privacy and how much you trust these technology giants that are steadily creeping inside people’s lives.
Remember that besides selling your personal data, they’re also feeding artificial intelligence an accurate portrait of you, complete with your habits, interests, and pretty much everything else that defines you as a person.
And that’s the creepy part in my opinion. Why? Just think about the privacy that’s being sacrificed in the name of convenience and you’ll understand.