Amazon admits that it listens to your Alexa conversations

Got an Amazon Echo? Turns out Alexa might not be the only one listening.

That’s right: according to a new Bloomberg report, thousands of full time employees and contractors are listening to, transcribing and annotating audio recordings from Alexa-enabled devices as we speak. They work across the globe and can listen to up to 1,000 audio clips in a single nine hour shift.

Amazon confirmed the story, telling CNN Business that it annotates an ‘extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers’.

While Amazon doesn’t explicitly inform Alexa users that it does this, the company says it uses ‘requests to Alexa to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems’ in its frequently asked questions. The aim is basically to ‘teach’ the Alexa software so it can understand your requests better, and get even ‘smarter’ in the process. Oo-er.

Amazon Echo

Credit: Olly Curtis/Future/REX/Shutterstock

Amazon employees in Boston told Bloomberg that on the whole, it’s pretty mundane work. For example, one was tasked with finding mentions of Taylor Swift and annotating them to say that the users were referring to the pop singer.

But they did admit to picking up on the odd amusing, upsetting and even potentially criminal recording – ranging from a woman singing (badly) in the shower to a possible sexual assault. And they revealed that they sometimes share these kinds of experiences in an internal chat room as ‘a way of relieving stress.’ Hmm.

According to Bloomberg, the listeners don’t have access to your full name or address, but do have the serial number and Amazon account number associated with your device. But Amazon told CNN that: ‘Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow’.

The spokesperson also pointed out that customers could ‘always delete their utterances at any time’ and that audio would not be stored unless the device was activated by your chosen ‘wake word’. Phew.

But worryingly, one employee told Bloomberg that they each transcribe up to 100 recordings a day that don’t seem to have been triggered by a command. So if you are going to belt your lungs out in the shower, you might want to make sure Alexa is asleep first. Just in case.