Amazon Echo and the Alexa voice abettor have had widely publicized issues with privacy. Whether it is the amount of data they aggregate or the fact that they reportedly pay advisers and, at times, alien contractors from all over the world to listen to recordings to advance accuracy, the abeyant is there for acute claimed advice to be leaked through these devices.

But the risks extend not just to our accord with Amazon. Major aloofness apropos are starting to emerge in the way Alexa accessories collaborate with other casework – risking a dystopian spiral of accretion surveillance and control.

The setup of the Echo turns Amazon into an extra aperture that every online alternation has to pass through, accession data on each one. Alexa knows what you are analytic for, alert to or sending in your messages. Some smartphones do this already, decidedly those made by Google and Apple who ascendancy the hardware, software and cloud services.

But the aberration with an Echo is that it brings calm the worst aspects of smartphones and smart homes. It is not a claimed device but chip into the home environment, always cat-and-mouse to listen in. Alexa even appearance an art action (not created by Amazon) that tries to make light of this with the creepy “Ask the Listeners” action that makes comments about just how much the device is spying on you. Some Echo accessories already have cameras, and if facial acceptance capabilities were added we could enter a world of common ecology in our most clandestine spaces, even tracked as we move amid locations.

This technology gives Amazon a huge amount of ascendancy over your data, which has long been the aim of most of the tech giants. While Apple and Google – who face their own aloofness issues – have agnate voice assistants, they have at least made advance active the software anon on their accessories so they won’t need to alteration recordings of your voice commands to their servers. Amazon doesn’t appear to be trying to do the same.

This is, in part, because of the firm’s advancing business model. Amazon’s systems appear not just advised to aggregate as much data as they can but also to create ways of administration it. So the abeyant issues run much deeper than Alexa alert in on clandestine moments.

Sharing with law enforcement

One area of affair is the abeyant for putting the ears of law administration in our homes, schools and workplaces. Apple has a history of afraid FBI requests for user data, and Twitter is almost cellophane about advertisement on how it responds to requests from governments.

But Ring, the internet-connected home-security camera aggregation owned by Amazon, has a high-profile accord with police that involves handing over user data. Even the way citizens and police acquaint is more monitored and controlled by Amazon.

This risks embedding a adeptness of state surveillance in Amazon’s operations, which could have annoying consequences. We’ve seen abundant examples of law administration and other government bodies in autonomous countries using claimed data to spy on people, both in breach of the law and within it but for affidavit that go far beyond the blockage of terrorism. This kind of mass surveillance also creates severe abeyant for discrimination, as it has been shown again to have a worse impact on women and boyhood groups.

If Amazon isn’t accommodating to push back, it’s not hard to brainstorm Alexa recordings being handed over to the requests of government advisers and law administration admiral who might be accommodating to breach the spirit or letter of the law. And given all-embracing intelligence-sharing agreements, even if you trust your own government, do you trust others?

In acknowledgment to this issue, an Amazon agent said: “Amazon does not acknowledge chump advice in acknowledgment to government demands unless we’re appropriate to do so to comply with a accurately valid and blinding order. Amazon altar to overbroad or contrarily inappropriate demands as a matter of course.

“Ring barter decide whether to share footage in acknowledgment to asks from local police investigating cases. Local police are not able to see any advice accompanying to which Ring users accustomed a appeal and whether they beneath to share or opt out of future requests.” They added that although local police can access Ring’s Neighbors app for advertisement bent and apprehensive activity, they cannot see or access user annual information.

Tracking health issues

Health is addition area where Amazon appears to be attempting a takeover. The UK’s National Health Account (NHS) has signed a deal for medical advice to be provided via the Echo. At face value, this simply extends ways of accessing about accessible advice like the NHS website or phone line 111 – no official accommodating data is being shared.

But it creates the achievability that Amazon could start tracking what health advice we ask for through Alexa, finer architecture profiles of users’ medical histories. This could be linked to online arcade suggestions, third-party ads for costly therapies, or even ads that are potentially alarming (think women who’ve suffered miscarriages being shown baby products).

An Amazon agent said: “Amazon does not build chump health profiles based on interactions with agreeable or use such requests for business purposes. Alexa does not have access to any claimed or clandestine advice from the NHS.”

The amateurishness and glitches of algebraic announcement would breach the able and moral standards that health casework strive to maintain. Plus it would be highly invasive to treat the data in the same way many Echo recordings are. Would you want a random alien architect to know you were asking for sexual health advice?


Underlying these issues is a lack of real transparency. Amazon is awfully quiet, ambiguous and afraid to act when it comes to arrest the aloofness implications of their practices, many of which are buried deep within their terms and altitude or hard-to-find settings. Even tech-savvy users don’t necessarily know the full extent of the aloofness risks, and when aloofness appearance are added, they often only make users aware after advisers or the press raise the issue. It is absolutely unfair to place such a burden on users to find out and abate what these risks are.

So if you have an Echo in your home, what should you do? There are many tips accessible on how to make the device more private, such as ambience voice recordings to automatically delete or attached what data is shared with third parties. But smart tech is almost always surveillance tech, and the best piece of advice is not to bring one into your home.


At Amazon, chump trust is at the centre of aggregate we do and we take aloofness and aegis very seriously. We have always believed that aloofness has to be basal and built in to every piece of hardware, software, and account that we create. From the beginning, we’ve put barter in ascendancy and always look for ways to make it even easier for barter to have accuracy and ascendancy over their Alexa experience. We’ve alien several aloofness improvements including the option to have voice recordings automatically deleted after three or 18 months on an advancing basis, the adeptness to ask Alexa to “delete what I just said” and “delete what I said today,” and the Alexa Aloofness Hub, a ability accessible globally that is committed to allowance barter learn more about our access to aloofness and the controls they have. We’ll abide to invent more aloofness appearance on behalf of customers.

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