Amazon widens Alexa’s reach despite ongoing privacy concerns

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Amazon has announced a wave of new virtual assistant-powered devices – including a pair of earphones and glasses – despite ongoing concerns about the privacy of those who use its smart helper, Alexa.

The technology giant unveiled a number of new Echo smart speakers, as well as the first wearables to support the voice-activated software – earphones, smart glasses and a ring.

(Martyn Landi/PA)
Amazon’s new Alexa-enabled Echo Frames. (Martyn Landi/PA)

Amazon – along with other tech firms with AI assistants – have come under scrutiny about their privacy practices in recent months following revelations about industry-wide schemes which see audio data from user interactions with software such as Alexa being listened to and analysed by human staff.

Critics accused tech companies of not clearly stating that other people may hear the recordings as part of the programmes, which they say are carried out to help improve speech recognition technology.

In response to the outcry, Amazon said it would give users the option to opt-out of having humans analyse their audio, while others have “paused” their programmes entirely.

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At its media event on 25 September, Amazon devices boss Dave Limp said the company was committed to user privacy and that it was “foundational” to every device the firm makes.

He also announced several new Alexa features he said had been designed to give users more control over their data.

(Amazon)
(Amazon)

It includes the ability to ask Alexa what the assistant heard and a new auto-delete tool which will automatically wipe all a user’s saved audio recordings every three or 18 months.

Limp argued that a service “can’t be private unless you give them (customers) this control”.

He also revealed Amazon had been improving the wake word engine which powers Alexa’s understanding of when it hears its own name and begins recording.

Mr Limp said it had become 50% more accurate in the last 12 months, reducing the number of false wakes and unintentional recording of private conversations.

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