Economy

Thousands of Amazon workers hired to listen to recordings from Alexa

Thousands of Amazon workers hired to listen to recordings from Alexa”

Amazon has admitted to the publication that it's employing human workers to annotate Alexa voice recordings.

While Amazon says that the manual listening is done only for "quality control" purposes to improve its systems' understanding of competing pronunciations, it has emerged that staff are told to ignore distressed noises, such as assaults or cries for help.

E-commerce major Amazon is the leader of this space as the company offers plethora of Alexa-enabled Echo smart speakers.

Wired wrote that adding in support for "transfer learning", where Alexa tries to apply previously learned skills to new ones, has helped developers "cut down on the grunt work they'd otherwise face".

McDonald not only saw requests he made to Alexa but also discovered dozens of other audio clips that should not have been recorded.

"The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word - or come across an amusing recording", Bloomberg says. 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.

Justin McDonald told I-Team Investigator Adam Walser that he loves his Amazon Echo. Amazon's privacy policy is vague when it should be explicit and direct with what it does with customer information.

Amazon's spokesperson responded thus: "We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience". The marketing materials for the Echo claim "Alexa lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter", only hinting in the lengthy Alexa FAQ that "We use your requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems".

"We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system", said the company statement. Apple's Siri is an example of the same.

Its human reviewers never receive personally identifiable information or the random ID.

What about Google's virtual assistant? Employees interpret as many as 1,000 audio clips in a 9-hour shift.

Demand for smart speakers is on the rise.

A common fear is that smart speakers are secretly recording everything that is said in the home.

The popularity of smart speakers has grown exponentially since they were first introduced to the United Kingdom in 2016.

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). If the hot word is not detected on that short snippet, the snippet is immediately discarded.

Here's how to opt out of this feature if you don't want Amazon listening to your recordings. Visit Amazon.com's Alexa privacy settings FAQ page. Then go to the Keyboard menu (found in the General section) and switch off Dictation. Its privacy portal, which lets you download a copy of your personal data, says it can not provide information "that is not personally identifiable or linked to your Apple ID".



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