Smart speakers and IoT devices- Is Alexa the only one listening?

Have you ever thought about the different implications IoT devices could have on your life? The smart devices we enter to our lives can listen, watch and record our every move. Even though these devices have so much knowledge about us, it doesn’t seem like people give this fact much attention.

One of this implications could be a legal one, as more and more cases in court tend to use information gathered from smart devices. For example, in November 2018, a New Hampshire judge ordered Amazon to turn over recordings made by an Echo present at the scene of a double murder.

While smart speakers became more popular through the years, by making the everyday life easier, it is important to raise the question about user’s privacy.
Recently, Bloomberg discovered that the smart speaker, Alexa, is not the only one listening to you at home- Amazon employees do to. They do so in order to improve the program by eliminate gaps in understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.

Regarding this discovery, an Amazon spokesman said that the company “only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience”- but there thousands of people connected to this project, working 9 hours a day, listening to up to 1000 clips per shift. The spokesman also claimed that they “have strict technical and operational safeguards”. But, it seems like also people who opt out of that program could be analyzed. Bloomberg also found that the recordings are associated with an account number, the user’s first name and the device’s serial number.

Besides that, it seems like Alexa itself is listening even when you don’t want it to do so. Even though no audio is supposed to be stored unless Echo is deliberately activated, there are cases in which Alexa begins recording without such permission. One of the people working on the program said the auditors each transcribe as many as 100 recordings a day when Alexa receives no wake command or is triggered by accident.

While we shouldn’t fear technology as such, it is something we need be aware of. When bringing a smart device into our homes and lives, we ought to take into consideration the future effects of such a decision, and act wisely on the basis of this knowledge.

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