Building trust in Alexa: We talk privacy with Amazon - MrLiambi's blog


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Friday, 3 September 2021

Building trust in Alexa: We talk privacy with Amazon

There are few in the UK, US and even Central Europe who don't know what Alexa is. Many even use it on a daily basis, for information, music playback, to control our TVs and smart home devices. However, there are also plenty who mistrust the digital assistant and the hardware it sits in.

Amazon spends time and money to battle what it claims are misconceptions about Alexa and its use of data. Indeed, it has an entire department tasked with building consumer trust. Not to be confused with the UK charity under the same name, Amazon's Alexa Trust team focuses entirely on Alexa-enabled devices, including Amazon's own Echo speakers. It creates and maintains the privacy features, settings and controls they use, as well as accessibility features.

Pocket-lint recently spoke with its director, Anne Toth, for the Pocket-lint Podcast, in order to find out what the company is doing to convince customers that the world's most prominent assistant is harmless. That it isn't always running and recording you in the background. And, to find out what tools and safeguards are in place to put minds to rest.

"The most common misperception is that Alexa is always listening. In fact, the only circumstances under which Alexa is actually streaming your voice to the cloud is in order to return a response to you. In most cases, you'll see a blue ring light that will show you when Alexa is active, which you can then physically mute as I have in my home. Those are things that were built in at the very beginning," she explain.

"But, what are really important are the transparency tools and the degree of transparency. You can see all of the transcripts, and you can listen to the voice recordings. You can inspect them all - we make them accessible to you - and you can delete them all.

"You can say things like 'Alexa, delete what I just said' or 'Alexa, delete everything I've ever said'. We've tried very hard to give customers access to all of that information, because it's through that degree of transparency that we think we can help establish that relationship of trust with with customers."

Privacy is a big deal though, and a hot topic when it comes to Big Tech. The mass collection of data online, through web use and online shopping, has been subject to documentaries and many a comment on social media. However, Toth told us that it is natural for Amazon's customers to be concerned about their privacy, and that it's very much at the forefront of the company's thinking too: "I see evidence every day that customers care very deeply about these things," she said.

"We hear from customers all the time about these issues and what they care about. That's one of the reasons why we continue to create privacy controls and features for customers to use."

Alexa can be turned off entirely, for example, or muted as Toth mentioned. Conversations you have with the assistant can be viewed and deleted. It won't end there neither.

"I think there's always more work to be done, because technology is moving very quickly," she added.

"We need to make sure that as technology advances, the privacy controls, the privacy dimension, moves in lockstep. And that we're that we're always inventing and innovating around privacy."

You can hear the entire interview with the director of Amazon's Alexa Trust team, Anne Toth, in the latest episode of the Pocket-lint Podcast (episode 119).

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