Alexa: Do Amazon employees listen to your conversations?

Last April, a shocking report from Bloomberg reported that Amazon employees, who number in the hundreds, are listening to user-generated voice recordings when talking to voice assistant Alexa in a new wave of data privacy infringement.

Amazon did not deny the report, and stated that listening to these conversations comes as part of the training of artificial intelligence algorithms operating in the voice assistant to recognize speech and understand the natural language of users, and whether we agree or disagree with Amazon’s endeavor to develop its voice assistant, but the fact that Amazon It is not alone that listen to the recordings of its users, especially companies that have voice aid.

So here’s how and why technology companies are searching your private data you upload:

Data Privacy Violation: From reading your notes to prosecuting minors

The Amazon incident was not the first. It was preceded by many companies, such as the ability of Evernote employees to read your notes, to Google and Facebook employees who are pursuing people.

  • Evernote gave its employees permission to read your feedback to “improve your experience”, in a change to its privacy policy that was made on January 2017, but the staff doing so changed their mind and asked for permission first after many users were upset.
  • A Google engineer allowed himself to spy on many minors, click their call logs in the Google Voice app , and access their chat logs, after the company gave him access to Google’s servers, meaning that site engineers can access everything they need to do Employees can get lost in publishing these private records as the engineer did in 2010.
  • A Facebook security engineer was expelled after he used his access to Facebook servers to hunt down many women online in 2018, and the company later reported that other employees had been terminated for chasing platform users in a blatant violation of their privacy.
  • We often recommend not giving different apps access to your email, because if you do, these apps may allow other people to read your email, whether it’s Gmail, Outlook, or any other email account. The Wall Street Journal reported that engineers who worked with some of the companies responsible for these applications were looking at hundreds of thousands of emails to train their algorithms.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Facebook once encountered an error revealing private images for application developers, and the employer can read your private messages in Slack. The NSA has reportedly been forced to fire some of its employees for using government surveillance systems to spy on others, and every company with your data will hand it over to the government when the arrest warrant arrives, as Amazon did when Alexa heard of a double murder.

Don’t rely too much on the cloud, it’s just someone else’s computer

When you use a decentralized service, it uploads your data to a “cloud” service, so it is simply a process of storing that data on the company’s servers. This company can see the data if you want and anytime you want.

This is simple enough, but reports that Amazon employees listen to the recordings of users of its service should somehow shock you. We may all assume that there is a lot of data that individuals cannot examine, but in any case, there should be some kind of law that prevents technology companies from looking at these things.

It is ironic that in a country in the United States no law would prevent companies from looking at these data. As long as they are honest when questioned about data privacy issues, this fact is often explained in the Terms of Service The case.

Even with voice assistants, it’s not just about Amazon, and as Bloomberg, herself says, even Apple, which focuses on the privacy of its users, has people listening to Siri recordings to help train algorithms that make these voice assistants work. Bloomberg also says that some Google reviewers listen to recordings made using Google Home devices as well.

Are there reasons why these companies have the right to violate data privacy?

There is, of course, justified fear when some intruders are assigned to deal with the data of others, those who misuse access to such data, but on the other hand, there are some legitimate reasons that may give a company employees the right to examine your data, the most famous of which are:

Government requests: A legal order may force the company to view and submit your data that may be relevant to government issues.

Training algorithms: Because of the way machine learning works, the algorithms used in the software need some human input during the training process, and perhaps that’s why some employees listen to Aleska and Siri’s recordings, which is also why Evernote wanted its employees to Look at your notes you wrote.

Quality Assurance: Companies may check the recordings or other data to see how their service works, even if you are talking to a robot, someone else may listen to the recording later to see how it goes.

Customer support: A company may request permission to view your data to help you if you need support. But at least, it is hoped that the company will do so only with your permission, which can be as easy as granting tweets, as was the case with Google Images.

Reported violations: The company may consider your data to look into reports of violations. For example, let’s say you have a private conversation between two people on Facebook.

The best way to reduce data privacy violation

All data privacy violations that occur from time to time occur because of the way the Internet works. Despite all the talk of “encryption” that secures your data, data is usually encrypted only when it is sent between your devices and the company’s servers. Of course, the data can be stored encrypted on the company’s servers, but in a way that the company can access, in the end, the company needs to decrypt the data to send to you.

The only way to prevent this is by using end-to-end encryption or client-side encryption. This means that the software you are using will encrypt data on the devices you use, with only encrypted data stored on the company’s servers in a way that the company cannot access. This way your data is yours alone.

But this may be less convenient in many ways, for example, services such as Google Images will not be possible, as they cannot automatically perform tasks on your photos through the company’s servers. Also, companies will not be able to “copy duplicate data” and will have to spend more money on additional servers. For voice assistants, all processing must be done locally, and companies cannot use voice data to better train their assistants.

Finally, make sure that the company allows you to access your data again, which means that the company can access your files in the first place.