Amazon is keeping your Alexa data in text form

Victoria Bell | The Daily Mail | Source URL

Voice recordings captured by Amazon’s Alexa can be deleted but the automatically produced transcriptions remain in the company’s cloud, according to reports.

After Alexa hears its ‘wake’ word, the smart assistant starts listening and transcribing everything it hears.

All the voice commands said to the virtual assistant can be deleted from the central system, but the company still has the the text logs, according to CNET.

This data is kept on its cloud servers, with no option for users to delete it, but the company claims it is working on ways to make the data inaccessible. 

The new finding comes as many reports have shed light over the company’s handling of sensitive data, with people scrutinising the tech they use more than ever.

An Amazon spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘When a customer deletes a voice recording, we also delete the corresponding text transcript associated with their account from our main Alexa systems and many subsystems, and have work underway to delete it from remaining subsystems.’

The report follows revelations yesterday that more than a dozen consumer advocacy groups plan to file a complaint against the company with the Federal Trade Commission.

They alleged that the tech giant is violating federal laws by failing to obtain parental consent before collecting data on children through Echo devices. 

According to the Wall Street Journal the complaint said that Amazon does not disclose how it collects and uses children’s data.

The groups argue that the company are violating children’s privacy after they discovered youngsters were sharing their names, home addresses, social security numbers and other sensitive information with Alexa, often with little oversight from parents.  

Amazon was met with scepticism from some privacy advocates and members of Congress last year when it introduced its first kid-oriented voice assistant. 

The device lets children ask Alexa questions, tell it to play music and remember information.

This is while giving them access to ‘FreeTime Unlimited,’ an Amazon service with 10,000 kinds of kid-friendly content like videos, books, TV shows and movies.

‘These are children talking in their own homes about anything and everything,’ said Josh Golin, who directs the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.

‘Why is Amazon keeping these voice recordings?’

A coalition of groups led by Golin’s organization and Georgetown University’s Institute for Public Representation is filing a formal complaint with the FTC alleging that Amazon is violating the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.  

A previous investigation by MailOnline revealed the smart assistant eavesdrops on housemates’ gossip, private conversations about insurance policies – and even the family dog. 

Amazon insists Alexa can only be activated when the allocated ‘wake word’ is uttered – being Alexa, Computer or Echo. 

The tech giant – along with Apple’s Siri and, until recently, Google‘s Assistant – says it saves every single interaction a person has with the device to improve the service – with some ‘unintentional’ snippets also being recorded if it mistakes another noise for a ‘wake word’.

However, evidence shows this cannot be the case, or the process is fundamentally flawed, as a host of sounds and conversations were recorded without a clear or legitimate wake word being uttered – some when there was not even a human nearby.   

These ‘secret’ archives revealed eerie snippets of users’ friends, families and children being recorded while they were completely unaware – and without a clear or legitimate wake word being uttered.

Amazon sent a comment via a spokesperson regarding the privacy settings of its voice recordings in regard to this investigation. 

The firm claims customers have ‘complete control’ of their recordings and can delete them at any time. 

While this is true in as much as users can delete their oral history relatively easily, it assumes they know of the archive’s existence in the first place. 

It remains to be seen what real benefit there is for Amazon in keeping this data. 

The statement read: ‘Alexa is always getting smarter, which is only possible by training her with voice recordings to better understand requests, provide more accurate responses, and personalise the customer experience. 

‘Training Alexa with voice recordings from a diverse range of customers helps ensure Alexa works well for everyone. 

‘Customers have complete control over the voice recordings associated with their Alexa account. They can review, listen, and delete voice recordings one by one or all at once by visiting in the Alexa app or at https://www.amazon.com/alexaprivacy.’


WHY ARE PEOPLE CONCERNED OVER PRIVACY WITH AMAZON’S ALEXA DEVICES?

Amazon devices have previously been activated when they’re not wanted – meaning the devices could be listening.

Millions are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that their conversations are being heard.

Amazon devices rely on microphones listening out for a key word, which can be triggered by accident and without their owner’s realisation. 

The camera on the £119.99 ($129) Echo Spot, which doubles up as a ‘smart alarm’, will also probably be facing directly at the user’s bed. 

The device has such sophisticated microphones it can hear people talking from across the room – even if music is playing. 

Last month a hack by British security researcher Mark Barnes saw 2015 and 2016 versions of the Echo turned into a live microphone.

Fraudsters could then use this live audio feed to collect sensitive information from the device.   

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