Amazon's Alexa is one of the three most popular AI-based voice assistants in the world, and is considered by many to be better than Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. However, it's also the subject of a massive debate on privacy, which has seen new developments surface in the form of a letter in reply to concerns by a US Senator. The letter states that Amazon stores voice recordings and transcripts recorded by Alexa indefinitely, and even shares some of this data with third-party skill developers.
United States Senator for Delaware Chris Coons wrote a letter to Jeff Bezos in May, seeking answers on Alexa, according to a report by Cnet. In a reply to his letter, Amazon's vice president of public policy Brian Huseman stated that Amazon stores voice recordings and transcripts of the same indefinitely, and these can only be removed when manually deleted by users. Furthermore, some of these transcripts aren't deleted even if the users has deleted the actual audio recordings.
What might be more bothersome from a privacy point-of-view is that Amazon may be sharing some of this data with third-party skill developers for Alexa. The letter states that these skill developers may retain records of Alexa requests that are transactional, such as ordering food online or calling for a taxi.
All of this firmly falls in the domain of personal information, and Amazon storing this information can be considered a major privacy issue. Although Amazon and other voice-assistant developers insist that recordings and data are maintained anonymously to continuously improve responses, service, and specific capabilities, there is always the possibility of this data being misused in the future. At the core level, it could be used for specific profiling to deliver targeted ads and products to users.
Users can delete information by contacting Amazon, but some of this data may not be purged entirely. All of this is particularly concerning, considering that Amazon's Alexa devices are largely placed in our most private spaces - our homes. Alexa is primarily used on Echo speakers and smart displays such as the Amazon Echo Show, and these products have the ability to record - both sound and visuals - everything going on in your home.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated skill developers have access to recordings. The error is regretted.