….An Admission That Should Truly Worry Every Customer. And it was presented in such a matter-of-fact way.
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Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
I’m beginning to worry about Amazon.
The company does so many pleasingly dynamic things, yet increasingly casts an unpleasantly Silicon Valley-style cloud over itself.
Yet its privacy-bending tendencies don’t seem so different at all.
Which makes its latest admission a touch distressing.
You see, Senator Chris Coons (D., Delaware) asked Amazon to provide a few details about how Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant operates.
So many people, after all, have an Amazon Echo for their vital needs. Such as switching off a light.
How long though, Coons wondered, does it keep voice recordings and transcripts of those recordings?
And, as CNET reported, the answer is: Forever.
Or, in official Amazon-speak:
We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.
Manually, that is.
Who ever remembers to do that? Who ever, indeed, even knows how to do that? (Here’s how, if you’re wondering.)
The response to Coons came in a letter from Amazon’s vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman.
And hoots, mon, customers might be appalled at some of the details.
For example, this from Huseman:
We do not store the audio of Alexa’s response. However, we may still retain other records of customers’ Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to the customer’s request. And when a customer interacts with an Alexa skill, that skill developer may also retain records of the interaction.
Ah, so it isn’t just Amazon that might retain your data, but a third party too.
Those desperately devoted to the worship of technology will say all this is all inevitable.
If you want Alexa to know you better and give you better responses, you have to allow Alexa to know everything about you and retain that information. Always and forever.
And please don’t think the voice transcripts are anonymized. They aren’t.
Oh, but it feels so tawdry, doesn’t it? It feels as if these companies don’t really want you to know what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
As so often happens with humans and privacy, it’s up to the humans to learn how to delete their data, rather than that data being automatically deleted by the all-powerful tech company.
It’s just not in their interest to do so.
It’s inevitable, then, that Amazon’s words appear to be slightly less than all-encompassing:
When a customer deletes a voice recording, we delete the transcripts associated with the customer’s account of both of the customer’s request and Alexa’s response. We already delete those transcripts from all of Alexa’s primary storage systems, and we have an ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.
An ongoing effort. They’re trying.
Coons sounded less than moved to rapture in a statement:
Amazon’s response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon’s servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice.
Which is a touch sinew-shivering.
Humanity seems to have already decided, though, that this is the beautiful future.
Not even five series of Black Mirror have encouraged enough people to stop and consider.
We’ve sacrificed our privacy for the convenience of not having to think or actively do, instead merely to buy while naked and post vacation pictures in which we’re slightly more clothed.
Too many tech companies tend to look at humans as slightly pathetic dupes, ignorant of all that goes on around them.
After all, we complain only when it’s too late.
A little like tech companies are now complaining that government hasn’t got around to regulating them yet.
The clinically caustic might wonder if their corporate lobbyists would really allow that to happen in any meaningful way.