Warning: *privacy not included with this product
Amazon Echo Dot
The hockey puck has become a globe. Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo Dot smart speaker is now round and there's even a version that can show you the time. Alexa has become the most bossed around bot on the internet. She plays music, turns on lights, makes phone calls, tells jokes, gives the weather, reads the news, orders toilet paper, and helps you feel less alone. Alexa will always be there for you, listening, ready to do your bidding, or sell you some new jeans because you asked her once how to lose weight.
What could happen if something goes wrong?
Amazon proudly states they are not in the business of selling your personal information to others, which is good. However, a good question to ask is, why would Amazon need to sell your data when they have their own advertising and retail juggernaut to use your data to sell you more stuff? Because Amazon is in the business of selling you more stuff. This means Amazon collects a whole lot of data on you -- records of your shopping habits, Alexa search requests, the music you stream, the podcasts you listen to, when you turn your lights on and off, when you lock your doors, and on and on and on.
What's good with Alexa? They make it possible to automatically delete voice recordings immediately after they are processed. That's a nice feature after the controversy around human reviewers listening in to Alexa voice recordings. However, Amazon says when you delete your voice recordings, they still can keep data of the interactions those recordings triggered. So, if you buy a pregnancy test through Amazon Alexa, they won't forget you bought that pregnancy test just because you ask them to delete the voice recording of that purchase. That record of the purchase is data they have on you going forward and may use to target you with ads for more stuff.
And then there are Alexa Skills, those little apps you use to interact with Alexa. These Skills can be developed by just about anyone with the, uhm, skill. And with too many of the Skills, third-party privacy policies are misleading, incomplete or simply nonexistent, according to one recent study.When your data is processed by an Alexa Skill, deleting your voice recordings doesn’t delete the data the developer of that Skill collects on you. With over 100,000 Alexa Skills out there, many of them developed by third parties, now your data is floating around in places you might never have imagined.
These days Alexa is built into everything from your Echo Dot smart speakers to your kids' toys to your glasses, headphones, and thermostats. And while Amazon doesn't sell your personal information, they sure do use the heck out of it to target you with more stuff to buy. Is this creepy? Well, with so much data floating around in so many places (and we're talking a lot of places, both within Amazon and with third parties too), yeah, Amazon’s Echo Dot smart speaker with Alexa can feel pretty creepy.
Tips to protect yourself
- Manage your Alexa privacy settings
- Turn the microphone off when you do not need it
- Regularly delete your voice history or set an auto-deletion of the old voice data
- Minimize usage of Alexa Skills to only the most trusted ones
What can be used to sign up?
What data does the company collect?
Name, email, phone number, address
Your contacts (if you choose to make calls)
How does the company use this data?
How can you control your data?
What is the company’s known track record of protecting users’ data?
In August 2020, security researchers from Check Point pointed out a flaw in Amazon's Alexa smart home devices that could have allowed hackers access to personal information and conversation history. Amazon promptly fixed the bug.
In October 2020, Amazon fired an employee for leaking customer email addresses to an unnamed third party.
In October 2019, Forbes reported that Amazon employees were listening to Amazon Cloud Cam recording, to train its AI algorythm.
In April 2019, it was revealed that thousands of employees, many of whom are contract workers and some not even directly employed by Amazon, had access to both voice and text transcripts of Alexa interactions.
In 2018, Amazon's Echo Dot device recorded private conversation and sent it to random contact. The recording consisted of 1,700 audio files.
Can this product be used offline?
User-friendly privacy information?
In addition to general privacy notice, Amazon provides a privacy FAQ with answers to key questions about Alexa.
Links to privacy information
Does this product meet our Minimum Security Standards?
Uses encryption in transit and at rest.
Password-protected Amazon account is needed to set up Alexa.
Amazon has a bug bounty program. Link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201909140
Alexa provides some information about its AI at the Alexa FAQ and the Amazon Science webpages: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602230
Is this AI untrustworthy?
What kind of decisions does the AI make about you or for you?
Amazon Alexa uses natural language processing to understand you and to generate answers to your requests.
Is the company transparent about how the AI works?
Does the user have control over the AI features?
Got a comment? Let us hear it.