Since the inception of smart-speaker assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and others, consumers have to live with the fact that by using these products and services, their data is being collected. How much, though? This is a frequent topic of debate. Some experts say the sheer bandwidth and storage required would make it impractical for the tech giants behind these products to retain all recordings.
Another point of concern is what companies actually do with the data. How many resources would it take for a company like Amazon to peruse your recordings, and to what benefit? Many tech experts can’t imagine companies would devote attention, much less manpower, to do that.
However, it turns out that yes, Amazon is in fact recording—and retaining—virtually everything you say around Alexa. This includes things said without actually using a “wake word” to activate it. You can delete the recordings afterward, but you cannot prevent the device from recording in the first place.
A Washington Post employee, Geoffrey Fowler, made a statement in a CT Post article that in his Alexa archive, he found “enough personal data to make even the East German secret police blush.” In the video below, he talks about what he discovered. Note that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post. Fowler didn’t hold back in his assessment of his boss’ product.
Fowler added, “I listened to four years of my Alexa archive and found thousands of fragments of my life: spaghetti-timer requests, joking houseguests, and random snippets of “Downton Abbey.” There were even sensitive conversations that somehow triggered Alexa’s “wake word” to start recording, including my family discussing medication and a friend conducting a business deal.”
Why is Amazon willing to cross this line of personal privacy? Because no one is stopping it. It says it’s collecting this massive amount of data to improve products’ artificial intelligence.
It’s not just Alexa. It’s products by virtually every large tech company you place in your home: smart thermostats, smart appliances, smartphones, smart…anything. Some companies might give you the option to pause or stop recording of your data, but there’s no doubt that their eavesdropping into your personal life is getting bolder with each product release and service update.
Feature image courtesy of Stock Catalog on Flickr