AMAZON has admitted that Alexa speakers hold on to recordings of your voice forever – with no expiration date.
It comes as privacy fears grow around so-called “smart” speakers like the Amazon Echo that listen for your voice commands to perform tasks.
The revelations came in a letter sent by Amazon to a US senator who had questions about how your data is used.
Sen. Chris Coons demanded to know how long Amazon kept your voice recordings for.
These recordings are made when you say the word ‘Alexa’ and ask for her to perform a task.
Amazon logs these recordings, which you can listen to at any time through the Alexa app.
In a response letter, Amazon’s Brian Huseman admits that it keeps transcripts and voice recordings indefinitely.
And it will only remove the recordings if they’re manually deleted by users – many of whom won’t even know they have the option to do so.
Those who do won’t be convinced either: CNet recently revealed that Amazon was keeping transcripts even after users deleted them.
Huseman said that there’s an “ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems”.
However, Amazon’s letter confirmed that records from some conversations won’t be deleted by Amazon, even if you remove the audio.
“The American people deserve to understand how their personal data is being used by tech companies, and I will continue to work with both consumers and companies to identify how to best protect Americans’ personal information,” Coons said.
What is Alexa?
If you’ve never heard of Alexa, here’s what you need to know…
- Alexa is an “intelligent” personal assistant built by Amazon.
- You can find her on several different devices, including Amazon’s Echo speakers.
- Alexa responds to voice commands, and can talk back to you.
- She can perform thousands of different tasks, including telling you about the news or weather.
- But she can do more complex things too, like ordering a pizza or arranging an Uber taxi pick-up.
- To activate Alexa, you need to say “Alexa” to an Amazon Echo speaker.
- Alexa currently only works in English and German languages.
- Because she’s powered by artificial intelligence, Alexa is constantly getting smarter.
- Alexa will also get more used to your voice, and better understand what you want her to do over time.
But Amazon claims that it retains data to improve the user experience for Alexa owners.
“Customers would not want or expect deletion of the voice recording to delete the underlying data or prevent Alexa from performing the requested task,” Huseman explained.
Amazon uses voice recordings and transcripts for a wide range of reasons – primarily to train and improve the Alexa voice assistant.
The firm also admitted that some of this data is shared with third-parties, which Coons warned wasn’t a transparent process.
“Amazon’s response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon’s servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice,” he complained, after reading the letter.
“What’s more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear.”
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One frustrated Alexa owner recently complained that his speaker called him a ‘sh*thead’ after he cancelled his Amazon Prime subscription.
Amazon was recently accused of “spying on your kids” with speakers by saving recordings of their conversations.
If you’re still keen on an Alexa speaker, check out our Amazon Echo vs Google Home guide.
Do you trust Amazon to look after your data? Let us know in the comments!
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