Amazon has replied to an inquiry letter from the United States Senator, Chris Coons. The letter requires the tech giant to explain in detail the process that customers’ Alexa voice recordings go through, and what happens to the data after talking to the virtual assistant.
The Senator’s letter was brought on by a Computers, Networking and Electronics Technology (CNET) inquiry two months ago, which revealed that Amazon stores voice recordings if they’re not manually deleted by users. CNET also discovered that Amazon may be keeping transcripts of the recordings regardless of whether the recordings are deleted or not.
Amazon affirmed CNET’s discovery in a response that was published on Coons’ website, expressing that they do keep users’ voice recordings until the time when the users decide to delete them. The voice recordings are never removed automatically, but the initial CNET report suggested that the transcripts still remain on Amazon servers even if a user has deleted the recordings. Apparently there is no option to remove the transcripts according to CNET’s findings.
What is the purpose for keeping the transcripts?
Amazon explained precisely what gets stored and what doesn’t. They stated that the transcripts are removed when a voice recording is deleted by a user through the Alexa Privacy Hub dashboard, however, as CNET explained, the transcripts are only removed from Alexa’s main system, but the subsystems purportedly still store them. Amazon has been vague about where the recordings might remain, stating little more than there is “an ongoing effort” to make sure the transcripts aren’t kept in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.
“We do not store the audio of Alexa’s response,” Amazon claimed. “However, we may still retain other records of the customers’ Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to the customer’s request”.
These records are accessible by Amazon as well as third-party developers seeing as an Alexa skill is involved. The company added, “For example, for many types of Alexa requests – such as when a customer subscribes to Amazon Music Unlimited, places an Amazon Fresh order, requests a car from Uber or Lyft, orders a pizza from Domino’s, or makes an in-skill purchase of premium digital content — Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction.”