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Alexa users can now stop Amazon employees listening to their recordings

A policy change means users can now opt out of Alexa's “manual review” system

Amazon Alexa users were recently disconcerted to hear that their interactions with the smart assistant may be listened to by people working for the company.

Amazon employees “manually review” a small number of recordings in order to optimise the service, making it more accurate for users everywhere. But news that humans may be listening into private conversations has proven unsettling for some users, prompting Amazon to introduce an “opt-out” setting.

The new policy took effect on Friday, with users now able to select the opt-out option via Amazon’s website or in the settings menu of the Alexa app. Recordings taken by the device will then be removed from the pool from which reviewers previously extracted their samples.

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Formerly, employees were able to access select Alexa requests and subsequently to transcribe audio clips, with a view to improving Alexa’s software. Privacy concerns abounded back in April, when Bloomberg first reported the news that thousands of Amazon workers were able to access users’ recordings and personal data, including first names and locations.

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Amazon then came to its own defence, retorting that only a small number of recordings were made available to its employees. But the backlash mounted nonetheless, culminating in the firm’s recent decision to permit its users to opt out of the controversial practice.

The company isn’t alone in recent privacy kerfuffles; last week’s news that Apple’s contractors “regularly hear confidential info, drug deals and couples having sex” via Siri was met with similar unease, and Apple has since suspended the manual review process.

For its part, alongside introducing the opt-out setting, Amazon has pledged to make the way it communicates its privacy policy to customers more accessible. Speaking to Bloomberg, a spokesperson for the company said: “We’ll be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices clearer”.

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