An option to stop sharing Alexa conversations with humans

Posted Aug 6, 2019 by Adam Still.

The information that conversations with voice assistants were being listened to by humans did not go down well, and rightly so. Today, Amazon offers an option to exit the program, though it still remains enabled by default.

Apple and Google had been accused of making conversations with their devices heard by human third parties. Amazon too, but the e-commerce giant takes the lead, sort of, in adding an option to exit the listener.

Amazon can not listen to its conversations with humans

In the face of the public’s grumbling, voluntary or forced measures had to be taken. The Cupertino company announced it would suspend the program, pure and simple. Google does the same, but for only three months in Europe. Amazon, meanwhile, offers a button.

An option well hidden in the settings and enabled by default

The option in question is in the parameters of the Alexa application. It is a simple yes / no to accept or refuse to share some of your recordings with Amazon teams. These will still be sent to Amazon’s servers and stored (unless you manually delete them), but they will no longer be listened to by human employees. The option also specifies that these recordings “may be used to develop new features and improve our service.” It adds that “only a tiny fraction of the records are analyzed manually.”

We would have preferred that the option be disabled by default. By doing things in the way they did, Amazon could be slapped on the fingers by the European Union. According to the German CNIL, “the functioning of these virtual assistants must be transparent so that any person can give his informed consent.” An option enabled by default and hidden in the settings probably does not fall into the category of “transparent operation.”

Adam Still

A self-professed tech and coding geek, Adam currently attends Yale University as a Computer Science major and, as a talented developer, has already made numerous contributions to open source Python libraries including SciPy and NumPy. He is the leading editor of The Windy Apple and takes a major interest in technology news and the latest developments of all tech companies, especially Apple. His current phone is an iPhone XS.

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