Monday, April 15, 2019

Alexa Is Listening To Get Better, But It Can Be Weird

Amazon workers are listening to what you tell Alexa, a Bloomberg investigation revealed. Amazon reportedly employs thousands of people worldwide -- from Boston to Romania -- who listen to voice recordings captured by the company's digital assistant.

So is there a legitimate business reason behind the practice?

"They're trying to make it better," CBS News contributor and Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson said Friday on "CBS This Morning." "When you say you want wrapping paper added to your list and it hears raccoon paper, or whatever it hears, it likes to go back to human and see why it made a mistake or why it gave you the wrong answer. It is trying to improve the service."

While their intentions may be to make the Alexa digital assistant better, Thompson said "you should feel weird about it."

"It is really, really weird," he said. "And they say there is no identifiable information, right? They don't tie it to your name. But what if we're talking, and I say, 'Hey, Alexa, give this to [CBS News'] Major Garrett. Major Garrett's being difficult on set.' That's pretty identifiable and the person's going to listen to it and know what's going on."

Amazon released a statement that said, in part: "We only annotate an extremely small number of interactions from a random set of customers in order to improve the customer experience. … 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."

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