FutureFive New Zealand logo
Consumer technology news from the future
Story image

Amazon admits storing Alexa recordings until users take action

By Sara Barker
Fri 5 Jul 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Amazon’s Alexa voice service is storing all user voice recordings and transcripts on its servers by default – and people who want to delete those recordings must do so manually.

The findings come after US Senator Chris Coons wrote to Amazon about the company’s data privacy and security practices back in May this year.

The letter details how Amazon’s privacy protections may not be as strong as they claim to be. 

Coons wanted to investigate key privacy issues – are transcripts deleted when audio recordings are deleted? Or are the transcripts are stored indefinitely on Amazon servers without giving users options to delete them?

“The inability to delete a transcript of an audio recording renders the option to delete the recording largely inconsequential and puts users’ privacy at risk,” Coons wrote.

In 2018, Amazon reassured Coons that it built user privacy by design into its Alexa product. However, the reality seems starkly different as it tries to balance privacy with its learning systems.

Coons requested information about the transcripts, including how long they are stored for, if there are any transcripts that can’t be deleted, how Amazon uses these transcripts, and if Amazon anonymises user identity and other information.

He also asked questions surrounding audio recognition and recording after voice commands. Those questions included: how long Alexa waits before it stops recording; if Amazon records audio without the ‘wake word’; and how Alexa stops recording after commands that don’t repeat the wake word.

Coons also asked further questions, which we have not included here for brevity.

On June 28, Amazon responded to Coons’ questions. The company explained that Alexa and Echo devices uses ‘keyword spotting’ to detect when a user wants to interact with Alexa.

The company also admits that users must manually delete recordings (including transcripts), by going to amazon.com/alexaprivacy.

If users don’t delete their recordings, they are giving Amazon access to all interactions and customer data. That data is used to train Alexa.

“In addition to using the transcripts to improve Alexa and the customer experience, we use the transcripts to provide transparency to our customer about what Alexa thought it heard and what Alexa provided as a response. Our Alexa’s Voice History feature allows customers to play the actual audio that was streamed to the cloud, review the text transcript of what Alexa thought the customer said, and review Alexa’s response. This helps customers to understand how Alexa works,” Amazon’s letter says.

“Providing customers with the transcript also allows customers to understand and inspect exactly what Alexa is, and is not, recording.”

“We already delete those transcripts from all of Alexa’s primary storage systems, and we have an ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.”

But take note - an ‘ongoing effort’ isn’t a guarantee that transcripts are fully deleted.

In regards to how Alexa records without the ‘wake word’, Amazon explains that this setting is called Follow-Up Mode.

 “Alexa will end the stream immediately once our automatic speech recognition system determines the customer has stopped speaking to Alexa. A blue light illuminates on the Echo device to indicate when audio is being streamed to the cloud, and customers can also enable an audible tone that plays when their Echo device begins and ends streaming audio to the cloud.”

Coons appreciates Amazon’s response, however he’s still worried about privacy concerns.

“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." 

“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.”

If one thing’s clear from the communications, Amazon has much more to answer for when it comes to balancing user privacy with machine learning systems like Alexa.

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Mobility
Tyson Beckford partners with Element Case on new AppleWatch band
Celebrity Tyson Beckford has collaborated with STM Brands' Element Case brand to create a rugged new accessory.
Story image
Wireless Nation
Wireless Nation, N4L provide 4G network to remote NZ schools
Wireless Nation and Network for Learning (N4L) have rolled out the Rural Connectivity Group’s (RCG) new 4G network to better connect three Chatham Islands schools.
Story image
First Table
First Table set to revive restaurant commerce in NZ with platform launch
A new restaurant booking platform has launched in New Zealand, giving Kiwi diners the opportunity to save and book at a variety of restaurants around the country.
Story image
Apple
Apple previews new features for users with disabilities
Apple says new software features that offer users with disabilities new tools for navigation, health and communication, are set to come out later this year.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: The A500 Mini Retro Gaming Console
Retro Games, the UK outfit responsible for a range of retro gaming devices from joystick to full-sized Vic-20s and C64 emulators, have launched their A500 Mini Retro Gaming Console.
Story image
Review
Hands-on-review: GoPro Hero 10
I have a long history with GoPro; I still remember getting my first camera when I was 16, using it to film Parkour and the day I lost it down a dingey crag. 
Story image
Online shopping
A/NZ shoppers plan to spend less, be more selective
For retailers, 2022 is set to be a year of introspection as shoppers across Australia and New Zealand indicate they plan to spend less.
Story image
Review
Hands-on review: MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WIFI motherboard
It’s all change with Intel’s 12th generation CPUs. We have a new chipset in the 600-series, a new socket with the LGA 1700, and new DDR5 memory.
Story image
E-waste
NZ’s first and only e-waste sorting machine launched
Computer Recycling launches e-waste shredder and MSS optical sorting machine BLUBOX, which is able to sort out a tonne of e-waste per hour
Booster
Booster Innovation Fund. A fund of Kiwi ingenuity – for Kiwi investors.
Link image
Story image
Microsoft
Microsoft backing Māori and Pacific wāhine in tech industry
A new initiative focused on getting Māori and Pacific wāhine into the tech industry and backed by Microsoft, NZTech and the government is calling for tech companies to get involved.
Story image
D-Link
D-Link launches new G415 Smart Router as part of EAGLE PRO AI range
D-Link A/NZ has announced the launch of its new G415 AX1500 4G Smart Router as part of the new EAGLE PRO AI Series.
Story image
Music
Hands-on review: JBL Partybox 110 Bluetooth speaker
My first review in a long time is sure to create a lot of noise, if the experience in my household has been anything to go by.
Story image
Wireless
Hands-on review: Technics EAH-A800 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones
Designed in Osaka, Japan, these headphones just exude quality. They aren’t heavy, but they feel well built and solid.
Story image
Dynabook
Dynabook A/NZ announces new Portégé X40L-K hyperlight laptop
Dynabook A/NZ has unveiled the all-new Portégé X40L-K, a hyperlight 14.0" modern laptop utilising cutting-edge, high-performance computing power.
Story image
Review
Hands-on-review: Creative Outlier Air V3
Creative is back with the third version of its affordable Outlier Air wireless earbuds range - aptly named the ‘V3’. And this time, they come boasting ambient mode and active noise reduction.
Story image
Wireless
Hands-on review: Steelseries Aerox 9 Wireless and Aerox 5 gaming mice
Steelseries offered two interesting mice for review, the Aerox 9 Wireless, aimed at MMO/MOBA players, and the Aerox 5, a wired mouse for multi-genre use.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Significant spike in consumer fraud, new report finds
Reported cases of consumer fraud more than tripled in the years 2020-2021 from prior years, according to a new report by Accenture.
Story image
Gaming
Mastercard users can now use rewards points in gaming
Mastercard has launched Mastercard Gamer Xchange (MGX), allowing APAC consumers to convert their rewards points into gaming currency.
Story image
Review
Hands-on review: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition
In almost every respect it works like a book, apart from the fact that it weighs next to nothing, fits in my hand perfectly, and is soothing on my eyes.
Story image
Design
Dynabook launches new Tecra A40-K and A50-K models
Dynabook has announced two new additions to its Tecra range, with both said to help promote flexible working solutions while also reducing the strain on IT managers.
Story image
Mobility
Hands-on review: STM laptop bags
The advent of hybrid working has meant we need laptop bags. We got our hands on two of the most popular laptop bags from STM.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: Intel Core i7-12700 CPU
Intel’s middle-of-the-road 12th generation Core i7-12700 offers performance at a lower price than the pricey Core i9 for users that are not fussed by overclocking.
Story image
Poly
Poly introduces new smart devices and announces Amazon e-store in Australia
Poly is introducing two new pro-grade devices to the market and announcing its first official Australian e-store on Amazon.
Story image
Norton
Hands-on review: Norton Anti Track 19 software
We get hands on with Norton's new privacy tool that was introduced in March 2022.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Tell-tale hints before volcanic eruptions found using AI
Researchers have pinpointed precursors to volcanic eruptions, in data collected before explosions including the deadly 2019 Whakaari surge that killed 22 people.
Story image
i-PRO
i-Pro announces newest solutions as rebranded enterprise
i-PRO APAC Oceania has introduced its newest high-resolution mid-range cameras, with combined edge AI analytics and resolutions of up to 4K.
Story image
Collaboration
TikTok launches community-inspired effect capability
TikTok has announced the launch of its Effect House feature to allow its users to create and share Community Effects.
Story image
Gaming
Game review: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (Xbox Series X)
The Lego Star Wars games have always been popular with both kids and adults as they are a cute way to relive the famous movies.
Story image
IDC
IDC finds 3.9% decline in worldwide tablet shipments
Preliminary data from IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Personal Computing Device Tracker has found tablet shipments reached 38.4 million units during Q1 2022, a year-over-year decline of 3.9%.
Story image
Corsair
Hands-on review: Corsair 32GB Vengeance 5200MHz DDR5 DRAM kit
Corsair’s Vengeance 5200MHz DDR5 DRAM offers PC users an entry-level upgrade to the new memory standard allowing them to get a little bit more out of their new Alder Lake CPUs.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: Ghostwire Tokyo (PS5)
Although a bit of a tonal departure for Bethesda, Ghostwire Toyko is a good-looking and eerie action game that is aimed at a very select audience.
Story image
Sustainability
The AI Forum helps NZ pave the way with AI sustainability practices
Non-profit organisation The AI Forum is helping Kiwis learn about addressing climate change issues through the use of AI technology.
Story image
Logitech
Logitech releases new mouse with ergonomic and sustainable focus
Logitech has announced the Logitech Signature M650 Mouse and the Signature M650 for Business Wireless Mouse, both with new ergonomic features and capabilities.
Story image
Wireless
Sony to bring new 1000X series WH-1000XM5 headphones to the market
Sony has announced the newest edition of its award-winning wireless headphones, with the 1000X series WH-1000XM5 noise-cancelling model.
Story image
Microsoft
Microsoft unveils adaptive accessories for disability access
Microsoft is introducing an expansive Inclusive Tech Lab to give people with disabilities greater access to technology through new software features and adaptive accessories.
Story image
Sustainability
Can bots succeed where humans have failed in sustainability?
People want businesses to turn talk into action, and believe technology can help businesses succeed where people have failed.  
Story image
NFT
Emirates to launch NFTs and experiences in the metaverse
"Emirates has embraced advanced technologies to improve business processes, enhance our customer offering, and enrich our employees' skills and experiences."
Story image
WolfVision
WolfVision announces new range of visualisers
WolfVision has announced a new range of visualisers to help meet multiple industry demands for remote learning and educational solutions.
Story image
Jabra
Jabra reveals its latest portable headset Engage 55
Jabra has launched the Engage 55, the newest product in Jabra's Engage series designed for ultimate call security and quality.
Story image
Malware
Vulnerabilities in Lenovo laptops expose users to UEFI malware
Researchers at ESET have discovered three vulnerabilities affecting various Lenovo consumer laptop models.
Story image
Gaming
PNY launches XLR8 Gaming EPIX memory products in A/NZ
PNY has launched its XLR8 Gaming EPIC-X RGB™ DDR4 Silver 3200MHz and 3600MHz memory products in Australia and New Zealand.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Google to enter the smartwatch market with the Google Pixel Watch
Google has provided a first look at its new Google Pixel Watch, which is set to make an entry into the competitive smartwatch market.
Story image
Gaming
Hands-on review: 32GB PNY XLR8 Gaming MAKO 6000MHz DDR5 memory kit
PNY’s XLR8 Gaming MAKO DDR5 memory modules are designed to get the most out of systems based on Intel’s 12th generation Alder Lake CPUs.