Amazon employees can find out where you live

Science

25 Apr 2019

Apparently, Amazon's Alexa employees can find out where you live

Amazon Alexa is great at handling queries - be it ordering food, getting a cab, or keeping you entertained.

However, in order to improve this experience, the AI also needs data, which is fed by a group of reviewers handling Alexa's user recordings.

Now, in a scary report, Bloomberg reveals that these reviewers have access to users' exact locations.

Here's what it means.

First tool

Amazon tools giving location information

Amazon tools giving location information

Speaking to multiple Amazon employees, Bloomberg has learned that the company's tools provide access to user coordinates, which can easily be used to fetch the exact location of a person such as their home address.

The outlet even witnessed a demonstration wherein an employee fed the longitude and latitude from Amazon's tool into Google Map and tracked down the house of an Alexa user.

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How Alexa gets location data

Location information is approximated either through the internet or using the Alexa app, which seeks location permissions and home address from a user when they set up their Echo device.

Second tool

Another tool captures contact names, email addresses

Along with the location-capturing tool, which the employees believe many have access to, there's another tool used by Amazon's Alexa employees.

This one captures contact information - names, partially-hidden numbers, email addresses - which the users have chosen to share with the Alexa app.

However, it's worth noting that the information captured here is believed to be accessed by a smaller number of employees.

Access level

No clarity on how many employees have this access

No clarity on how many employees have this access

Having said that, it is not exactly clear how many people have access to these tools and therefore this information.

Amazon, according to Bloomberg, has employed thousands of employees who analyze, transcribe, and annotate user recordings to improve Alexa's ability to understand user queries and answer them accordingly.

They are spread across three continents, working from Boston to India.

Response

What Amazon has to say on this access

Amazon had previously said its reviewers cannot link individual recordings to the identity of users in any way.

Now, in response to the latest report, it says, "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."

Strict policies prohibiting employee access

"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," Amazon said.

Possibility

Still, Amazon should restrict employee access

Still, Amazon should restrict employee access

While Amazon has got safeguards in place, such a wide degree of data sharing could certainly raise concerns among Alexa users. And, rightly so.

Nobody would like the fact that a random unknown person would have the power to track down the exact place where they live.

Not to mention, the case of sensitive information sharing, even for improving Alexa's capabilities, makes matter worse.

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Most asked questions

How to access all Amazon Alexa skills?

Are third party Amazon skills safe to use?

Is there a skill for ordering pizza?

Is Alexa better than Google Assistant?

More questions

How to access all Amazon Alexa skills?

Asked 2019-04-25 17:22:15 by Paridhi Rao

Answered by NewsBytes

You can try Amazon Alexa skills by visiting https://www.amazon.com/alexa-skills/

Are third party Amazon skills safe to use?

Asked 2019-04-25 17:22:15 by Trishla Kadam

Answered by NewsBytes

Yes, but we recommend checking reviews and ratings before choosing any skill.

Is there a skill for ordering pizza?

Asked 2019-04-25 17:22:15 by Vihaan Saxena

Answered by NewsBytes

Yes, you can set up an Amazon Alexa skill for ordering food from Domino's.

Is Alexa better than Google Assistant?

Asked 2019-04-25 17:22:15 by Aditya Saxena

Answered by NewsBytes

In terms of handling queries, Google Assistant is better and more conversational than Alexa.

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