Bloomberg talks to Amazon contractors who review Alexa recordings

Amazon Echo devices (BestAI Assistant/Flickr)

Bloomberg has spoken with Amazon contractors who say they listen to 1,000 Alexa audio clips per shift, on average, to review Alexa's response rates and identify glitches.

Amazon's AI audio review process appears more thorough and involved than those run by Apple or Google. Some contractors, for example, described how they were tasked with categorizing topics users ask Alexa about:

One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as “Taylor Swift” and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist.

Like other tech companies, Amazon's privacy policy at the time of Bloomberg's initial story -- April, 2019 -- did not explicitly state that humans review audio clips recorded by Alexa.

A job opening Bloomberg found at the time described the reviewer's job, suggesting that the technology behind Alexa's responses still relies heavily on human curation:

A recent Amazon job posting, seeking a quality assurance manager for Alexa Data Services in Bucharest, describes the role humans play: “Every day she [Alexa] listens to thousands of people talking to her about different topics and different languages, and she needs our help to make sense of it all.” The want ad continues: “This is big data handling like you’ve never seen it. We’re creating, labeling, curating and analyzing vast quantities of speech on a daily basis.”

The secret behind AI assistants

Now anyone can join Amazon's Q&A community to write answers for Alexa

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The crowdsourced site Alexa Answers was previously invite-only.

The secret behind AI assistants

August 18th
To answer the questions you ask Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant, tech companies have employed armies contractors to listen to recordings and take notes.

Microsoft updates privacy policy to clearly state that humans listen to Skype and Cortana audio

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Motherboard found updated language in privacy statements.

Motherboard speaks with a Microsoft contractor who reviews Skype call audio

August 7th
The interview describes how contractors listen to real call recordings to review and improve Skype's live translation feature

Amazon adds option allowing users to disable human reviews of their Alexa recordings

August 2nd
The move comes after Bloomberg discovered in April the company uses contractors and employees to review audio clips recorded by Alexa

Google tells privacy watch dog that it ceased manual Google Assistant audio clip reviews

August 2nd
The Germany privacy watch dog informed Google that its manual review of audio clips was in violation of GDPR

Apple suspends human review of Siri recordings

August 1st
Following a Guardian report that contractors listen to sexual acts and other private encounters, Apple has suspended its manual review program.

Apple uses contractors to review Siri recordings, including those made on accident

July 26th
The Guardian spoke with a contractor who described listening to sexual encounters, patient-doctor conersations, and drug deals.

A Belgian news outlet was able to identify people from their leaked Google Assistant and Home audio recordings

July 11th
Privacy policies tell you a lot about the way large company AIs work, and don't.

Sections

Surveillance and Privacy

August 16th

AI-enabled technologies produce and rely on vast troves of personal data, most of which is unregulated and vulnerable to theft and misuse.

These technologies include:

  • Facial recognition: It helps users unlock their smartphones. It also helps police in China track criminal suspects and monitor members of the Uyghur ethnic minority.
  • Personalization: It helps consumers make necessary purchases and discover entertainment, but also encourages developers to collect personal data from increasingly far-flung sources.
  • Voice assistants: They help users answer questions, create calendar events, and set alarms. They also record audio accidentally, and until recently relied on human reviewers to listen to private audio to improve their responses.
  • Smart home products: Similar to voice assistants, these products allow users to remotely operate appliances, set temperatures and access security footage. They also collect a vast amount of private information about the home life of their users.