The Amazon Alexa – a device whose benefits include being able to use voice commands to add items to your shopping list, play your favorite radio station, and dim your bedroom lights – was recently revealed to have more access to users information than was previously known. Bloomberg News released a report this week detailing just how much access the multi-billion dollar corporation has to what is going on inside your family’s home.
According to the report, Amazon devices – which activate once a “wake word” such as “Alexa” or “Echo” is used – have been recording user conversations and sending them back to a team of employees, who then listen to and transcribe them. The previously undisclosed practice has raised questions about what other sensitive information Amazon staff can access. According to statements from unnamed Amazon employees, that information includes everything from phone numbers to geographical locations that can easily be used to find the home addresses of Alexa users.
Amazon tried to reassure customers today in their most recent statement by saying, “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.” Although Amazon did not clarify how many employees have that access, they did explain that their internal policies strictly prohibit employees from accessing or using customer data for any purposes other than training, citing a zero tolerance policy.
For families who are concerned about the possibility of Alexa providing sensitive and personal information to Amazon staff, there is an option to disable the microphone on the device. This will render all of the voice-activated commands inaccessible, but the device will still respond to any commands issued through the Alexa app.
While turning the microphone off may limit Alexa’s appeal to parents who enjoy the device’s hands-free features, it may offer a little peace of mind to those who are concerned about their family’s privacy.