Amazon was the first reported to have been listening in on Alexa recorded speech for the sake of auditing them and improving the company’s AI for the service. It turns out, it isn’t just audio that the company is distributing to employees for that same purpose. Also fair game, it seems, are video recordings from the company’s Cloud Cam and, given the visual nature of the content, is easily more identifiable and more problematic as far as keeping owners’ identities private.
Launched in late 2017, the Cloud Cam was Amazon’s first formal foray into the world of smart home cameras. The 1080p webcam was billed as a security device, ironic given these allegations, and advertised the use of AI to differentiate between pets moving and burglars breaking in. And as many should know by now, AI isn’t some magic sauce that starts completely knowledgeable and perfect.
Any AI, especially nontrivial ones like this, needs to be trained and machine learning itself doesn’t happen by magic either. It has to work on thousands if not millions of data and, in some cases, require the intervention of humans to check errors in the AI’s evaluation of a particular piece of data. In hits particular case, just as with Alexa audio recordings, humans audit video clips to correct Cloud Cam’s identification of actors in the video, be it human, animals, and other actions.
That is the tricky situation that Cloud Cam owners are finding themselves in. According to Bloomberg’s report, Amazon has not informed owners that clips recorded by the camera may be seen by humans. They merely presume that some AI analyzes the video and can automatically identify people and activities within view. Users may not even realize that humans may be reviewing clips they do intentionally send because Cloud Cam’s AI tagged it incorrectly.
Unlike with audio, video content gathered by Cloud Cam is immediately more revealing, especially when it happens to be of some compromising or very personal activity. Amazon does have data disposal policies in place, especially for sensitive material, once something has been seen, it cannot always be unseen. Especially by people who may have other intentions.