Amazon Alexa users ‘allowed to opt out of human reviews’

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Amazon has given virtual assistant users the option to opt out of having human reviewers listen to their voice recordings.

It has also pledged to provide clearer information on its recording review practices. However, the technology giant will not follow Apple and Google in suspending the practice of using human reviewers to analyse some recordings.

The three companies have all recently confirmed that they used staff to listen to and analyse a small number of the recordings gathered from interactions with their respective virtual assistants, which are housed across smartphones, smart speakers and other devices, and record and respond to queries when they hear a wake phrase.

All three firms said a fraction of recorded interactions with Apple’s Siri, the Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa were used to improve the language understanding of their software, grade the assistant’s responses and help improve their performance.

Multiple reports on the issue claimed that staff and contractors on the various schemes often heard parts of private conversations during their analysis.

Both Apple and Google have since said they are pausing their use of human reviewers, but Amazon confirmed it was taking a different approach.

The company said it had expanded an existing Alexa feature which allows users to opt out of having recordings used in new feature development to now also include an opt-out for having their recordings analysed by human reviewers.

“We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures. For Alexa, we already offer customers the ability to opt out of having their voice recordings used to help develop new Alexa features,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

“The voice recordings from customers who use this opt-out are also excluded from our supervised learning workflows that involve manual review of an extremely small sample of Alexa requests.

“We’ll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear.”

The company said the training of Alexa required some human review in order to meet requests from its diverse range of customers, and that the scheme involved only an extremely small sample of requests, with access granted to a limited number of staff who were subject to strict technical and operational safeguards.

Chris Price
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