The Echo smart speaker, powered by Amazon's artificially intelligent assistant Alexa, keeps a digital ear out for its wake phrase, "Hey Alexa." When it hears these words, it starts recording the sounds that come next--your spoken commands--and then it saves these snippets in the cloud. You can't turn off the Echo's recording habit, because it's a fundamental part of how the smart speaker functions. But if it really makes you uncomfortable, then manually make the speaker stop listening when you're not using it: Tap the microphone button on the top of the device, and it will stop listening for your next "hey Alexa." To review and potentially delete the snippets that the Echo has been saving, you have to go through the Alexa app (for Android and iOS) or the Amazon website.
Amazon workers are listening to private and sometimes disturbing voice recordings from Alexa to improve the voice-assistants' understanding of human speech. The company has admitted to its customers that thousands of recordings are being analysed by staff and transcribed before feeding them back into the software. As many as 1,000 clips are reviewed by workers in buildings all over the world, many of which do not bear any obvious indication that they are run by Amazon. Among more sinister content the workers have heard, have been a child screaming for help and two instances were they believed they heard a sexual assault taking place. The revelations once again raise thorny ethical questions over the future of AI smart assistants in the home, how tech companies like Amazon are gathering personal information and just what they are - and should - be doing with it.
If you're considering getting or giving a smart speaker in the near future, the Echo Dot is a great place to start. It doesn't take up much real estate on the counter, it's relatively easy on the wallet, and it comes loaded with Alexa and her many, many capabilities. But now that there is a new generation of Echo Dots available, should you spring for the latest and greatest? Let's look at the new Dot, what makes it different, and whether it's worth the extra cash. The display on the third-generation Echo Dot with Clock can also display timers and weather.
Amazon has been under fire from critics concerned about the potential loss of privacy when Alexa hears your every word. So on a day Amazon unveiled its latest smart speaker with a display – the $89.99 Echo Show 5 – the company announced privacy features that will apply to all its Alexa-infused devices: notably, the ability to ask Alexa to delete the recordings of your voice captured when you summon Alexa for a task or query. Starting today, you can utter the words, "Alexa, delete what I said today" and recordings from the given day will be erased. In the coming weeks in the U.S. (and later elsewhere), you will be able to say," Alexa, delete what I just said," to wipe out the last request you made. Amazon separately put the spotlight on a new Alexa Privacy Hub meant to provide transparency around how you can ensure privacy when using Alexa and Echo devices.