Is Amazon on the way to becoming the next Facebook? While there are those that inherently distrust the company because of its outright commercial interests, it has yet to cause a massive blunder on the scale of Facebook’s ongoing saga. It might be close to it though, with more news about what the company is allowing Alexa “annotators and verifiers” to access about customers, including their geographical location that can then be turned into a home address.
Given how companies like Amazon and Google love talking about AI and machine learning, most people probably presumed that they used those same technologies in training and growing their smart assistants. That only true to some extent but, as some found out to their shock, humans do get involved at times. In Alexa’s case, however, those humans number in the thousand and apparently have more access to user information that most would be comfortable giving to strangers.
Amazon insists it has strict policies and systems in place to protect private user information and those auditors won’t have access to personally identifiable marks. Not unless the audio clip itself contains that data. Reuters sources, however, now claim that those employees spread across the world also have access to geolocation. Thanks to today’s advanced mapping services, it’s not too difficult to enter those longitude and latitude and see the user’s house or office from high above.
Amazon uses that data to serve answers and content that are customized to the user’s location, like weather information, nearby places of interest, etc. You’d expect that Amazon would at least keep those to itself, anonymized, and safe. Some anonymous employees, however, report that Alexa’s human auditors, many of whom are located in Boston, Romania, India, and more places around the world, have almost free access to those coordinates.
Ever since the first expose nearly two weeks ago, Amazon retroactively started limiting those employees access to certain pieces of data. It has yet to respond to this latest revelation though it had earlier claimed that only a limited number of such human listeners had access to Alexa users’ locations.