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Smart speakers are inherently terrifying to many users. After all, a speaker with microphones could gather a lot of data on you. Now, a report has revealed that Google’s competitor Amazon is apparently giving a team of Alexa “reviewers” access to customer data including their location and audio clips.

Bloomberg first reported earlier this month that Amazon had formed an internal team of “reviewers” who are tasked with improving Alexa as a product. Apparently, that team occasionally reviews audio clips of users interacting with Alexa in order to transcribe and annotate the interactions to use them to find and eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of commands.

However, today’s report is a bit more troublesome. Apparently, this same team also has had access to location data of customers using these speakers. Some employees working on the program revealed that longitude and latitude data is provided to members of this team, and it would barely any time at all to reveal a customer’s home address based on that data.

Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

In a demo, one employee took the data from the software, brought it into Google Maps, and had the user’s home address in less than a minute.

The two employees in question here believe that, until recently, the majority of employees in this group had access to this sort of data. That’s a bit worrying considering that Amazon previously said in a statement that members of this team “do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.”

Responding directly to this latest development, Amazon 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. 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.

There’s no reason currently to think that Amazon employees are using this data nefariously, thankfully. However, Amazon clearly sees the concern with having this data so openly available. Following these two developments, the company apparently restricted data from the software in question, even taking away the tools entirely from some users.

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Ben Schoon

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