Turns Out Alexa Is Listening To Your Conversations
If you're partial to a conspiracy theory you'll probably know that the Earth is flat and the royal family are all lizards (sure, why not). But one theory that has just proven to be true is the fact that the technology in our homes is listening to us.
But before you panic, buy a rifle and a shed-load of baked beans to shun society as a survivalist know this: the people who are listening to us are apparently doing it for our own good (and not in a creepy, 1984 kind of way).
Rather than shadowy government officials and ad executives listening in for unlawful comments and the ability to burrow into your frontal cortex with product placement, the one group of people that we can be certain are listening are doing so to improve their products.
Amazon has folks working for them whose job it is to transcribe interactions between their Amazon Echo (you'll probably know her as Alexa) and us.
These employees then annotate the recordings they transcribe and feed it back into Alexa's 'brain' to improve her understanding and fill in blank spaces with regards to human speech.
Amazon has always been transparent that Alexa "lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter" but that's only half the truth.
In fact, there's a team of thousands of people listening in to help Alexa gain the knowledge she needs to improve.
These people are based all across the world and are bound to secrecy by non-disclosure agreements.
But a few have spoken about what they do.
Got an Echo? Chances are someone out there has probably heard you in your house.
Each of the employees listens to around 1,000 interactions each day, and use the information to 'teach' the software about stuff.
One employee, who for obvious reasons has not been named, said that he took a load of instances of the phrase 'Taylor Swift' being said into the machine and annotated those to include reference to the musical artist.
Oh, and if it's interesting or funny or terrifying, they also have an internal chat function so that they can share stuff with each other. That's nice to know, isn't it? No. No it isn't
Obviously, with recording devices in multiple rooms and millions of homes, eventually they are going to pick up something criminal.
Amazon revealed that they have protocols and help in place for people who hear anything distressing.
An Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg: "We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously.
"We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience.
"For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone."
They continued: "We have strict technical and operational safeguards and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system.
"Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it."
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