Amazon Keeps Alexa Voice Recordings Indefinitely

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Amazon admission in letter to US senator re-ignites privacy row over Alexa and its range of smart speakers

Amazon’s Alexa intelligent assistant and its Echo-based smart speakers are once again at the centre of a privacy row.

The row blew up when it was revealed in a letter to a US senator that Amazon keeps user voice recordings indefinitely.

This admission will only add fuel to the fire. Last month Amazon was hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers are recording children.

Amazon’s Echo smart speaker

Voice storage

Those lawsuits alleged that “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent.”

That legal action came after it was reported earlier this year that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people speaking to their Alexa-powered smart speakers, to help improve its functionality.

But now a fresh privacy row has broken out after US Democratic Senator Chris Coons demanded to know how long Amazon kept your voice recordings for.

“We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them,” replied Amazon in its letter. “[…] When a customer deletes a voice recording, we delete the transcripts associated with the customer’s account of both of the customer’s request and Alexa’s response.”

And Amazon reportedly in some cases, will hold onto the transcripts, even if users remove the audio.

Every time a user speaks to Alexa, Amazon reportedly logs these recordings, which the user can listen to at any time through the Alexa app. Amazon takes recordings of a user’s voice through Alexa and then stores them to improve its systems.

Not deleted

US Senator Coons isn’t exactly happy with Amazon‘s response.

“Amazon’s response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon’s servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice,” the Senator wrote on Facebook.

“What’s more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear,” said the senator.

One security expert pointed out that Amazon is not alone in holding onto people’s data.

“Amazon isn’t alone in retaining user data indefinitely,” said Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate for Comparitech.com. “Most companies don’t put expiration dates on the data you give them. Google doesn’t delete your search history unless you tell it to.”

“Facebook doesn’t remove old posts or photos unless you manually remove them,” said Bischoff. “Removing all this data on your own isn’t difficult, but most people don’t bother, and those who do probably don’t do so regularly. If privacy policies don’t explicitly mention how long data is retained, then you should assume your data is held and used indefinitely.”

In May privacy jitters were raised again about Amazon when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before a command is actually issued.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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