Due to a "human error" Amazon handed over Alexa voice recordings to a customer in Germany. However, since he had never used Alexa or an Echo device, the 1,700 records had to belong to an Amazon user unknown to him. And this is exactly what the editorial staff at Heise was able to locate.
After several investigations have shown that Amazon's echo devices do not secretly transmit any data, the data scandal that is now beginning to occur takes place in the Amazon cloud. User A wanted to download his data (as per European data protection regulations) from Amazon, but received voice recordings from user B instead. This is not only a technical error, but a clear breach of trust.
Nobody knows how many times that's happened. In one case, the affected user A contacted not only Amazon, but also our colleagues at the German tech magazine Heise. Amazon did not reply and instead removed the download link to the user data. The editorial team identified user B by means of the leaked Echo recordings and the enclosed PDF transcript in order to contact him afterwards. Interesting how easy it is!
The Heise report says:
"The voice recordings come audibly from the private sphere of strangers, for example from the living room, bedroom and bathroom. On the basis of the content of the records, such as the naming of names and queries of local weather forecasts, we were able to identify the Echo owner. It was a surprise to him, because Amazon had not informed him about the data leak, although they already knew about it there."
There are still has some open questions that Amazon will soon have to answer publicly. How will it better monitor information procedures in the future to avoid such "human errors"? Did it informed the relevant data protection authority within 72 hours?
The injured user B was contacted by Amazon.de only four weeks after the error, shortly after the request. He is said to have received a free prime membership and two additional Echo loudspeakers as compensation.
The game with speech recognition
This year Echo loudspeakers will lie once more under several Christmas trees. Amazon must show much more openness by then if it wants customers to continue to open their doors to the corporate AI Alexa.
Non-commercial assistants such as Mycroft and efforts such as Open Voice show that user friendly language assistants are also being researched outside the big data giants. Perhaps they will establish themselves even more in the light of such revelations.
Do you use an Echo device? What do you think about this revelation?