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What Your Smart Home Hears And Why Privacy Policies Matter

This week, it was reported that Amazon employs thousands of individuals to listen to conversations recorded on Alexa devices. Amazon explained that its employees listen to and transcribe conversations recorded only after the device is triggered by the user’s unique “wake work” and only for the purpose of helping Alexa better understand commands. Further, Amazon stated that the employees listening to the audio clips do not have access to the customer’s full name or address, although they do have access to the first name, account number, and the device’s serial number.

Despite these assurances about privacy safeguards, many Alexa customers have been surprised by the revelation that their conversations may have been reviewed by Amazon employees in this manner. Amazon’s privacy policy does not expressly inform the user that Amazon may use the recordings in this way. In fact, the Amazon privacy notice does not contain the words “voice”, “recording”, or “Echo” at all, and only uses the word “Alexa” in connection with the Alexa internet service, not the Echo device. Most users, if they read the privacy notice, would not realize that they gave Amazon permission to access their recorded conversations for any purpose. Amazon’s Frequently Ask Questions section does confirm that it uses the recordings to train its speech recognition systems, but does not explicitly state that employees listen to and annotate conversations.

This type of confusion and surprise is why many consumer privacy advocates are pushing for laws that require clear and concise privacy policies. Many privacy policies are long, dense, and full of legal or technical jargon that make if difficult – if not impossible – for consumers to intelligently consent to the collection, use, and dissemination of private information. Internet-connected devices create a lot of convenience and efficiency in modern life and the prevalence of the “Internet of Things” is only growing. As more consumers become aware of the vast amounts of their data that is being collected, the demand for clear and concise privacy policies will increase. For businesses, easy to understand privacy policies can help foster consumer trust and also help them avoid significant liability for unfair and deceptive trade practices (next time on the blog).

Natalie Friend Wilson

Natalie Wilson has a passion for helping businesses thrive in challenging economic and regulatory environments. She has over a decade of experience representing debtors, trustees, and creditors in commercial bankruptcy cases filed under chapters 7 and 11 of the Bankruptcy Code, including related ...


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