SEATTLE: Amazon.com Inc. will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings, a move that follows criticism that the program violated customers’ privacy.
A new policy took effect Friday that allows customers, through an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app, to remove their recordings from a pool that could be analyzed by Amazon employees and contract workers, a spokeswoman for the Seattle company said. It follows similar moves by Apple Inc. and Google.
Bloomberg first reported in April that Amazon had a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software. Their tasks include listening to and transcribing voice recordings. Some of the workers reviewing customer recordings had access to certain personal data, including users’ first names and their location.
At the time, Amazon and people familiar with the program said only a small sample of recordings were manually reviewed. Bloomberg reported that similar human review is used for Alphabet Inc.’s Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri. Recent news reports elaborated on the extent of those companies’ review programs.
Google’s decision to halt its review process was disclosed after a German privacy regulator started investigating the program. Apple said it was suspending its manual review of Siri queries on Thursday. Amazon declined to comment on whether the company had been contacted by regulators about its program.
“We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures,” the Amazon spokeswoman wrote in an email Friday. “We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.”
The manual review practice by Amazon wasn’t previously disclosed in the product’s terms and conditions. Amazon now says the Alexa app will include a disclaimer in the settings menu acknowledging that people might review recordings through Alexa. Users who tap “Settings,” “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” are greeted with new language: “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”
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