Amazon admits they keep Alexa recordings indefinitely, even if you request to delete the files

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Comment by truth on July 4, 2019 at 8:00am
Amazon has responded to a letter of inquiry it received from U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) that asks the company to detail what happens to customers’ Alexa voice records and data after they speak to their virtual assistant. The Senator’s letter was prompted by a CNET investigation in May, which found that Amazon keeps voice records unless users manually delete them — and that it may keep text transcripts of those voice recordings indefinitely.

In Amazon’s response, published today on Senator Coons’ website, the company confirmed CNET’s findings, explaining that it does, in fact, store users’ voice recordings up until the point they choose to manually delete them.

In other words, the recordings are not automatically deleted at any point.

However, the original CNET report claimed text transcripts of the voice records were still maintained on Amazon’s servers even after users deleted their recordings, with “no option for you to delete them.” As CNET explained, Amazon would delete the text log from Alexa’s “main system,” but not remaining subsystems.

In Amazon’s response to the Senator’s inquiry, the company detailed what exactly it stores and what it does not.

Screen Shot 2019 07 03 at 2.00.07 PMIt clarified that transcripts themselves are deleted when a customer chooses to delete a voice recording using the Alexa Privacy Hub dashboard. But, like CNET had claimed, the transcripts are deleted from Alexa’s “primary storage systems.” Amazon isn’t clear about where else they may still reside, saying only that there’s “an ongoing effort” to ensure the transcripts aren’t saved in any other Alexa storage systems.

Other data may also be retained after voice recordings are deleted, but it’s of less concern.

“We do not store the audio of Alexa’s response,” Amazon also noted. “However, we may still retain other records of the customers’ Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to the customer’s request,” the company said.

These records of actions may be retained by either Amazon or a third-party developer when an Alexa skill (voice app) is involved.

“For example, for many types of Alexa requests — such as when a customer subscribes to Amazon Music Unlimited, places an Amazon Fresh order, requests a car from Uber or Lyft, orders a pizza from Domino’s, or makes an in-skill purchase of premium digital content — Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction.”

This seems practical. After all, if you order an Uber or a pizza, or started a subscription, you’d expect there to be a record of that with the company where the order was placed. And no one really asks their pizza place to wipe their pizza ordering history.

Amazon also said that for other types of requests — like setting a recurring alarm, asking Alexa to remind you of something, putting a meeting on your calendar or messaging a friend — customers would not expect deletion of the voice recording or the data, nor would they want that, as it could prevent Alexa from performing the task.

The company explained why it uses transcripts, saying that it helps to train and improve Alexa’s machine learning systems, and to provide a log to customers directly of what they said, what Alexa heard and how the virtual assistant responded.

Additionally, Amazon confirmed the system stops recording as soon as the customer stops speaking — as indicated by the blue light on the Echo device or, optionally, a tone that can be set to play.

The company then goes into more technical detail about the short buffer on the device, which is continuously overwritten, and says that Alexa is designed to record and process as little audio from customers as possible as processing audio not intended for Alexa would be costly and of no value to Amazon.

The original inquiry from the Senator gave Amazon


https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/03/amazon-responds-to-a-u-s-senators...

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