business news in context, analysis with attitude

Bloomberg follows up on recent stories about how Amazon employees actually are listening selectively to people using its Alexa-powered system as a way to improve voice recognition capabilities with a new report saying that the same team “has access to location data and can, in some cases, easily find a customer’s home address.”

According to the story, “Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

“While there’s no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device’s owner.”

Amazon responded to the original stories by saying that “employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow.” But now, Amazon has elaborated, saying that “access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”
KC's View:
I am distressed by what appears to be a lack of transparency and forthrightness by Amazon … the perception of a drip, drip, drip of information seems more like Facebook, and not good for business.

I believe Amazon - I think - but they are mishandling this. (I’m not entirely surprised by the fact that Alexa knows where I am… when I ask what the weather is, she tells me about my town.)

I accept that if machines actually are going to learn and get smarter, I may need to participate in this process, and that there could be tradeoffs.

But let me make that decision, one way or the other. Transparency matters, and in this care, I don’t think Amazon lived up to my expectations.