Alexa is like having your own personal assistant that never asks for a raise.
Teams stationed around the world listen to and transcribe recordings, then send them back into the Echo’s software to erase the gaps in Alexa’s ability to understand speech, Bloomberg said.
Sometimes the employees can even hear chatter in the background while Alexa is on, but they are not authorized to speak about their work, Bloomberg reported.
The workers, who range from contract to full-time employees, reportedly have signed nondisclosure agreements and listen to up to 1,000 audio clips per nine-hour shifts.
Although Amazon reportedly has procedures in place for when potential criminal conduct is heard, two workers in Romania told Bloomberg that they were told it isn’t Amazon’s job to interfere. In other cases, the workers said they use internal chat rooms to share recordings they find amusing.
When workers come across a background conversation about personal information – like bank details – they are supposed to make the audio file as “critical data” and move on, according to Bloomberg.
“We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience," an Amazon spokesperson told Fox News in a written statement. "For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone."
Alexa users can disable their voice recordings for developing new features.
Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant also have human workers that listen to snippets of audio, but the companies reported to Bloomberg that the recordings aren't linked to personally identifying information.
“We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it,” Amazon told Fox News.
Amazon also explained that Alexa has to be activated by the "wake word" or by pressing a button. “By default, Echo devices are designed to detect only your chosen wake word (Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo). The device detects the wake word by identifying acoustic patterns that match the wake word. No audio is stored or sent to the cloud unless the device detects the wake word (or Alexa is activated by pressing a button),” the company said.
This story has been updated to clarify how Alexa is activated by users.