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Welcome to the age of surveillance capitalism

2 0 1
15.04.2019

When you speak to your virtual home assistant, such as your Alexa speaker device, is anyone else listening? Many of the owners of these fast-selling internet-connected gadgets, with 78 million bought worldwide last year alone, have wondered.

Last week, we discovered the answer – quite possibly. And not by any accident. Because Alexa's owner, the giant retailer and tech firm Amazon, has thousands of staff who do nothing else.

Illustration: Andrew DysonCredit:

Thanks to a Bloomberg news story, we now know that "a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania" work through as many as 1000 voice recordings taken from homes and offices per person per day.

Most are banal. People ask Alexa for recipes, jokes, trivia, and "she" will reply. Or they ask Alexa to do things, like play music or operate connected devices to perform functions like turning off the lights, locking the door, adjusting the air conditioning, and so on.

And Alexa only activates when you call "her" name, or speak some other designated trigger word. So an Echo device would never record anything you didn't address to it directly, right? Not so.

Illustration: Dionne GainCredit:

The people listening for Amazon transcribe around 100 conversations a day where the Echo recorder switched itself on by mistake or for some other, unknown reason, according to Bloomberg.

And sometimes it picks up conversations........

© Brisbane Times