Amazon.com will let Alexa users opt out of human review of their voice recordings, following criticism that the program violated customers’ privacy.
A new policy took effect Friday that allows customers, through an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app, to remove their recordings from a pool that could be analyzed by Amazon employees and contract workers, the Seattle company said. It follows similar moves by Apple and Google.
Amazon now says the Alexa app will include a disclaimer in the settings menu acknowledging that people might review recordings through Alexa. Users who tap “Settings,” “Alexa Privacy” and then “Manage How Your Data Improves Alexa” are greeted with new language: “With this setting on, your voice recordings may be used to develop new features and manually reviewed to help improve our services. Only an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed.”
Amazon has a team of thousands of workers around the world listening to Alexa audio requests with the goal of improving the software. Their tasks include listening to and transcribing voice recordings. Some of the workers reviewing customer recordings had access to certain personal data, including users’ first names and their location.
Similar human review is used for Google's Assistant and Apple’s Siri.
Google’s decision to halt its review process was taken after a German privacy regulator started investigating the program. Apple said it was suspending its manual review of Siri queries on Thursday. Amazon did not comment on whether the company had been contacted by regulators about its program.