On Friday, Amazon rolled out an update for their Alexa home assistants that allows users to keep their voice recordings from being accessed for review by company staff.
Considering Alexa users were never informed their voices were being captured at all, this update may come as a surprise.
Of course, consumers have been suspicious that Alexa and other artificial intelligence (AI) assistants were doing exactly this ever since their release. But at the same time, those suspicions haven’t been enough to stop more than 1-in-5 U.S. adults from obtaining them.
Regardless, people have not been happy to learn they were indeed being recorded, and the smart speaker industry is reacting.
Recoiling against Unwanted Recordings
Like most data protection reform as of late, this user privacy action originates from European concerns surrounding AI security risks.
In fact, just last week thousands of Google’s AI-captured recordings of unaware users were leaked across Belgian media channels. In response, a German data privacy watchdog located in Hamburg ordered the company to halt reviews of all captured audio. The organization then went on to express concerns about the possibility of similar activity coming from other AI assistant providers.
Immediately afterward, Apple ceased all human reviews of audio they’ve captured from users across the globe. Since it’s recently been confirmed that the company commonly uses Siri to spy on its users in the name of quality-control—overhearing everything from sensitive personal information to the more intimate moments between couples—it’s likely a smart anticipatory move.
Meaning, thanks to the international outcry over privacy violations, a consumer-friendly domino effect is finally moving throughout the smart speaker industry.
Alexa’s Obscured ‘No Human Review’ Mode
Despite widespread privacy concerns about Alexa, this ability to opt-out of recordings isn’t being broadcasted to users with any urgency.
There’s been no big announcement from Amazon, and only when perusing through Alexa’s settings menu will the option make itself known.
More specifically, users must navigate from “Settings,” to “Alexa Privacy,” to “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” before they finally see a message that explains how the on-by-default setting allows the company to review voice recordings to improve services. The message then ends with the promise, “Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”
But it makes sense. Customer recordings are an invaluable resource for the company to optimize their products with. So, the less users who learn how to opt-out, or even know that they can, the better for them.
At the very least, Amazon did update their FAQ page with more information on how they conduct human reviews.