Individuals’ right to privacy is one of the most intensely debated issues around the globe as technology has blurred the definition/meaning of privacy. Amazon’s Alexa has become very popular and has entered millions of homes across the world (78m smart speakers made Amazon, Google, etc were sold globally last year alone). Recent revelations that it is not just machines or software that are listening to your commands but “Amazon employs thousands of people around the world who listen to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering” will intensify the debate of right to privacy.
“….Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening. Sometimes, someone is.
Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands. The Alexa voice review process, described by seven people who have worked on the program, highlights the often-overlooked human role in training software algorithms. In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa “lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.” But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching….
…The team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania, according to the people, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program. They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift…
….Amazon says we have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system and the process helps to improve the performance of the device…. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.
….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.”
…..In homes around the world, Echo owners frequently speculate about who might be listening, according to two of the reviewers. “Do you work for the NSA?” they ask. “Alexa, is someone else listening to us?”
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