An Amazon.com Inc. team auditing Alexa users’ commands has access to location data and could easily find a customer’s home address.
The team transcribes, annotates and analyzes a portion of the voice recordings picked up by Alexa. The program, whose existence Bloomberg revealed earlier this month, was set up to help Amazon’s digital voice assistant get better at understanding and responding to commands.
Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to Amazon's employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.
Two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner.
Amazon has acknowledged the Alexa auditing program. In a statement the company said “access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”
Some of the workers charged with analyzing recordings of Alexa customers use an Amazon tool that displays audio clips alongside data about the device that captured the recording. Much of the information stored by the software, including a device ID and customer identification number, can’t be easily linked back to a user.
However, Amazon also collects location data so Alexa can more accurately answer request.
A second internal Amazon software tool stores more personal data, according to one of the employees.
After punching in a customer ID number, those workers, called annotators and verifiers, can see the home and work addresses and phone numbers customers entered into the Alexa app when they set up the device, the employee said. If a user has chosen to share their contacts with Alexa, their names, numbers and email addresses also appear in the dashboard. That data is in the system so that if a customer says “Send a message to Laura,” human reviewers can make sure transcribers wrote the name correctly so that the software learns to pair that request with the Laura in the contact list.