A number of employees familiar with internal working practices at Amazon have stipulated that members of the Alexa team are able to easily find a customer’s home address in some instances. The team in question is charged with helping to improve the performance of Amazon’s digital assistant.
It makes perfect sense for Amazon to have an internal team dedicated to the performance and progression of the Alexa digital assistant but we’re now starting to learn more about the function and purpose of that team.
The individuals suggest that the team is spread across three different continents globally and is charged with transcribing, annotation, and ultimately analyzing a selection of recordings that the Alexa is provided with. The main purpose of this appears to be to try and ensure that Alexa gets better at how it reacts to specific commands and to constantly be training the software.
The five individuals are stating that some of those recordings ultimately end up exposing latitude and longitude coordinates of where the recording was captured. Those locations can then be mapped into a simple-to-find third-party system online to trace the lat and long back to a physical address.
There appears to be no suggestion that any of those employees have tried to do anything nefarious with that data or try and locate an Alexa user based on the information but the revelation could be enough to make some privacy-concerned users ditch using their Echo hardware altogether.
Some consumers are very accepting of the fact that specific employees may hear recordings or listen to specific commands. However, location data is a totally different subject and is a lot more emotive to a lot of people. Particularly because it can expose the location of people who have tried extremely hard to actually keep their location secret for very tangible reasons. Amazon has responded to the concern suggesting that access to that data is “highly controlled”:
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.
It seems that Amazon has been restricting access to certain systems and certain data in recent times so maybe it’s likely that additional security measures will be placed on this data going forward.
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