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Privacy Software Hardware

Amazon May Give Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts (engadget.com) 166

According to The Information, Amazon may give developers access to your private Alexa audio recordings. Until now, Amazon has not given third-party developers access to what you say to the voice assistant, while Google has with its Google Home speaker. Engadget reports: So far, Alexa developers can only see non-identifying information, like the number of times you use a specific skill, how many times you talk to your Echo device and your location data. The Information reports that some developers have heard from Amazon representatives about more access to actual transcripts, though how and how much wasn't discovered. If developers knew what exactly is being said to their skills, they could make adjustments based on specific information.
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Amazon May Give Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts

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  • by PFactor ( 135319 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @08:20PM (#54797407) Journal
    When people speak in Star Trek, the computer is always listening. What changed in that hypothetical future's past that needs to change in our present to make wholesale gathering of our voice comms acceptable?
    • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @08:24PM (#54797419)

      It requires people to just give up any notion of being a private person, and just becoming a sheep. It would also require trust - trust of corporations, and trust of government.

      Also, Star Trek is fiction.

      • Who cares if a computer is always listening to what we are saying so that, in a closed loop, it can respond to our needs? The creep factor that people feel is mostly irrational. Computers are already reading all of our email and reading all of our files. That's how antivirus and spam filtering works. It's only an issue when the computer or AI is doing something outside the realm of what we are considering acceptable. Having a computer listen to everything that is being said so that it can instantly turn on
    • Didn't they have to say "Computer" first? Or hire Sigourney Weaver to say it.
    • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @08:37PM (#54797479)

      "When people speak in Star Trek, the computer is always listening. What changed in that hypothetical future's past that needs to change in our present to make wholesale gathering of our voice comms acceptable?"

      Its an interesting question.
      The capabilities of the star trek technology means that within a few seconds of Picard/Riker or Kirk/Spock/Scotty/etc decided to breach protocol or violate an order and discussing it anywhere on the ship... his superior officer would show up on the view screen and relieve him of duty; and teleport him to the ships brig.

      Real-time spying of everyone on the ship at all times... would turn into a dystopia pretty quick.

      They'd need a constitution that guaranteed them absolute privacy; and complete immunity from persecution/prosecution from such eavesdropping/electronic monitoring if it were to take place. And a system of checks and balances that had the people's faith that the audio wasn't being archived, reviewed, and misused.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Its an interesting question.
        The capabilities of the star trek technology means that within a few seconds of Picard/Riker or Kirk/Spock/Scotty/etc decided to breach protocol or violate an order and discussing it anywhere on the ship... his superior officer would show up on the view screen and relieve him of duty; and teleport him to the ships brig.

        Yes, and that's exactly what happened when McCoy and Scott conspired to mutiny against Janice Lester who was impersonating Kirk at the time.

        The only way Picard or Kirk get away with disobeying orders is by virtue of being at the top of the chain of command and out of radio range of their superiors.

        • by vux984 ( 928602 )

          Yes, and that's exactly what happened when McCoy and Scott conspired to mutiny against Janice Lester who was impersonating Kirk at the time.

          Yeah. One time. Once. On one episode. That's the flaw of star trek as a work of fiction. It would have been always happening, every episode.

          The only way Picard or Kirk get away with disobeying orders is by virtue of being at the top of the chain of command and out of radio range of their superiors.

          Really? How many episodes did they conspire against a superior officer on their OWN SHIP? Why didn't the ship rat them out?

          And how many episodes did little Wesley or Worf or some red-shirt of the week break the rules and not get snitched on by the computer immediately?

          How many times did someone go missing or rebel or whatever, without the first command being... hey comp

    • Well, arguably Star Trek did not make "wholesale gathering of our voice comms acceptable." At least in The Original Series, you usually had to flip a switch to talk to the computer.

      That said, it seems like everything was recorded [youtube.com]...

    • What changed in that hypothetical future's past that needs to change in our present to make wholesale gathering of our voice comms acceptable?

      We're no longer being ruled by the Ferengi.

    • When people speak in Star Trek, the computer is always listening. What changed in that hypothetical future's past that needs to change in our present to make wholesale gathering of our voice comms acceptable?

      In Star Trek the eavesdropping computers weren't owned by private corporations looking to turn the users into products by selling and/or otherwise monetizing every scrap of data they could collect. The computers were there to serve the greater good, not the shareholders' good.

    • by Desler ( 1608317 )

      Your comparing make believe to real life? Uhhhh... what?!!

      • Your comparing make believe to real life? Uhhhh... what?!!

        You're right. Make-believe is generally very much better.

    • Picard has root access to the *Enterprise* computers. That is the difference. Also, The Federation has strong personal liberty protections that generally dont get violated (Section 31 being an exception)
    • by jordanjay29 ( 1298951 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @01:08AM (#54798609)
      You forget that all the occupants of ships on Star Trek were members or guests of a paramilitary organization. They'd have to give up their privacy in that respect when they joined or boarded the ship, in order to make use of such conveniences for Starfleet's purposes. This easily sidesteps today's privacy concerns since Starfleet owns and operates the ships of its own fleet. Rarely do we see civilian homes in the shows, and I can't recall a time when a civilian had a computer system like Starfleet.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      They seem to have rules enforcing privacy in Star Trek. For example, when they ask the computer where someone is, it actually tells them where their comm badge is. If they take the badge off, they computer appears unable to locate them, even though the ship's sensors can apparently detect individuals on a planet full of other living creatures from orbit. There must be some kind of hard lock-out in place as they never even think to try to override it.

      Presumably the computer would be programmed to ignore and

    • When I watched Star Trek back in the early 90's, I guess I assumed that all of the processing of voice input was happening right there locally in the computer. Heck, even in the late 90's and early 2000's, our desktop computers had text-to-speech software that didn't require an internet connection. So why did developers decide that all of that processing had to happen remotely, with voice recordings being transmitted to some server?

      That, and all the damn analytics, is enough to keep me away. I don't mind
    • You make it law that anything spoken cannot be used to prosecute you.
      Let them gather whatever evidence/information they want, but they cannot prosecute you unless an action is made.

      Is this perfect? No. But without it they'll throw us in jail just for saying you want to "Kill X for doing Y" out of shear anger, as most of us have done at some point in our lives but don't actually mean to do. And this is one of the more obvious cases I can think of. God knows how far it would span if we were stripped of our ri

  • I don't own any Amazon devices, and that is not going to change.

    • Amen! This is why I don't own any device - Amazon, Google, or whoever - that can listen to what I'm saying. If privacy protection ever evolves into what it should be, I may reconsider, but I'm not holding my breath.

      I will continue to buy stuff from Amazon. Since I buy for myself and a lot of other people, Amazon has never really understood exactly what I'm personally interested in.
  • "If developers knew what exactly is being said to their skills, they could make adjustments based on specific information."

    Is this supposed to make sense?
    • by haruchai ( 17472 )

      "If developers knew what exactly is being said to their skills, they could make adjustments based on specific information."

      Is this supposed to make sense?

      Alexa wrote the summary

  • it ain't private no more
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If you buy one of these devices, you clearly don't give a fuck about privacy.
  • Use mycroft.ai (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HalAtWork ( 926717 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @08:34PM (#54797461)

    Previously mentioned [slashdot.org] on Slashdot, Mycroft.ai [mycroft.ai] can be built on a Raspberry Pi and perhaps other clones, and voice processing can be done locally. If I wanted something like this I'd probably use that.

  • Dont buy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @08:36PM (#54797477) Journal
    Devices with microphones that cant be turned off.
    Devices with microphones that connect to networks and want recordings.
    IoT from .coms that want recordings.
    • ...devices with microphones and network connectivity.
    • Re:Dont buy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by kamapuaa ( 555446 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @09:03PM (#54797631) Homepage

      I'm typing this on a laptop with a microphone and internet access. I also have a phone by my desk with a microphone and internet access. My TV, with a microphone and internet access, is downstairs. I guess there's also my wife's tablet, with a microphone and internet access, downstairs. Does an XBox One have a mic in it?

      Give over it bub. We're in the 21st century, there's stuff with microphones has internet access. In another decade or two the list will probably be ten times as long. Throwing our electronics in the fire is a futile Luddite approach to the issue of potential police over-surveillance.

      • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
        As a consumer a person still have the right to consider who they are buying from and what they are buying.
        Software can be added to show or block mic or cam access.
        That returns total control back to the user who owns the hardware.
        In the 21st century some great software can be installed that can show OS and software access to hardware like a mic or cam in real time.
        An informed user can then select to allow or find out more information on why an app needs the mic on all the time.
      • Give over it bub

        Yeah. Don't have standards and principles. That's not cool in our time and age.

      • Nonsense.

        - The microphones in your laptop and tablets are not always listening. That's different. And on a laptop you can check this using software like Oversight. But most importantly: it's a social norm.
        - Scale matters. As a society there is no need to accept that internet connected devices with always listening microphones become a new norm. We have a say in this.

        The argument that it's all "not really new, so accept it" is used a lot in tech circles. But that relies on a 1.0 understanding of privacy, whe

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You should run metasploit on a dummy computer and test your "mic isn't always listening" hypothesis. Metasploit isn't even sophisticated. You see the tools that have been getting leaked from the three letter agencies by WikiLeaks and ShadowBrokers lately? Weeping Angel, which turns on different devices' cameras and mics (even non-computer IOT devices) and Cherry Blossom, which turns your router into a port sniffer (Feeds every packet sent across the router to a central server). Plus, there are the NSA t

      • I'm typing this on a laptop with a microphone and internet access. I also have a phone by my desk with a microphone and internet access. My TV, with a microphone and internet access, is downstairs. I guess there's also my wife's tablet, with a microphone and internet access, downstairs. Does an XBox One have a mic in it?

        My laptop runs an OS that gives me control of when the mic is on or off. Ditto my phone. I choose not to have a tv with a microphone, nor does it get internet access. No xbox, and if I did have one, it'd be unplugged when not in use. Your choice of wife is your own.

        Give over it bub

        YOU get over it, bubba, or corporate shill, whichever you are. Your logic is equivalent to saying "We're all going to be taking a dirtnap some day, so just kill yourself now." If you really believe what you're saying, you are a sad example

    • You mean don't buy a laptop or smartphone?

    • Sure. But Alexa isn't that. You can turn the mic off any time you want, there's a button for that.

      And Amazon has committed publicly and legally to not sharing your audio with third party developers. That isn't going to change.

      This story is completely false. Somebody misunderstood something they read or just wrote it as pure clickbait to rile up the privacy crowd.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is laughable that in the same sentence that they claim to have only provided de-identified they include LOCATION data on that list.

    Unbelievable.

  • This is fullly expected from an always on mic. Just wait and see what developers get from the model with the camera...

    From a technical sense it's pretty understandable as context around what people are saying actually is pretty useful. I personally do not. Ind Amazon distributing other people's data for the greater good.

  • Seriously, this is gesture interfaces all over again. Remember how your kinect was going to turn you into a martial artist? Yeah, no. Alexa doesn't even promise that much. Shut up and save your money.
  • I can't take a fart without the Amazon Dot [amzn.to] chirping in response. Pretty annoying.

    • Interesting. I'm an experienced farter, but I've never managed to make my farts sound like "Alexa".

    • That's the new Fart language pack (EN-FRT).

      It's listening to your digestive communications, which until recently were like dolphin speak, unknown to us.

      But Amazon figured it out.

  • by crunchygranola ( 1954152 ) on Wednesday July 12, 2017 @09:19PM (#54797709)

    I am not letting a corporation install bugging devices in my home, and I am sure as hell not going to pay for the privilege.

    • What are you talking about you already have. Or did you type this post on a graphics calculator?

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I'm actually surprised that Amazon doesn't give away their hardware... Maybe they are happy with a slower roll out and some extra profit.

      Eventually I expect they will be free, because they make so much money for Amazon. Not just extra purchases, but they also get to direct your purchases and control who else gets to make sales. If you say "order some AA batteries", they get to decide which brand of battery and how many and who from.

    • I am not letting a corporation install bugging devices in my home, and I am sure as hell not going to pay for the privilege.

      A good point that has, of course, been brought up many times. Given what we know from Snowden, there can be no question that the Three Letter Agencies are all over this.

  • I live in Maryland, USA former home of Linda Tripp https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linda_Tripp#Indictment_by_the_state_of_Maryland/ [wikipedia.org]. Since it is likely that not all people (friends, guests, etc.) in a given room even know the mic is present, how are these devices or this behavior legal in "All - Party Consent" states https://www.mwl-law.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LAWS-ON-RECORDING-CONVERSATIONS-CHART.pdf/ [mwl-law.com]?

    • Are you certain you didn't click through user agreements that waive those rights? The fine print is so small and changes so frequently I doubt anyone here could even answer if the agreements from Amazon cover this.

      • You have clicked through the user agreement. Your guests have not. The law reads clear to me: someone is in violation of the recording law. According to how the fine print was written, the guilty party is either Amazon or you.

        • What if it is my responsibility to inform my guests?

        • You have clicked through the user agreement. Your guests have not.

          Did you force your guests to visit?

          The law reads clear to me

          Let me guess. You're not a lawyer?

          • You have clicked through the user agreement. Your guests have not.

            Did you force your guests to visit?

            No, but they have the right to assume their rights won't be violated. Likewise, if there's a concealed spiked pit trapdoor behind your entrance, you have a duty to inform your guests.

            The law reads clear to me

            Let me guess. You're not a lawyer?

            While we keep saying how evil lawyers are and how badly they twist the wording, I don't suspect a judge to be likely to have a different interpretation of a law written in such an obvious way. You need to have consent of every visitor -- usually, merely informing them is enough but you need to at least do that. This is not a

            • I don't suspect a judge to be likely to have a different interpretation of a law written in such an obvious way.

              You realize this is an international site? There's a multitude of applicable laws.

              This is not a public space, thus there's an expectation of privacy.

              Any case law to back up the notion that it's reasonable to have an expectation of privacy in someone else's house?

              Expectation of privacy, at least in the US, usually refers to fourth amendment rights against police search. If you visit a friend and

              • You realize this is an international site? There's a multitude of applicable laws.

                This thread (started here [slashdot.org]) is specifically about Maryland, a state that requires consent of all parties.

                If you want to go international, here's the law of Poland, the country I live in: a private person may record a conversation he's a participant of (ie, "one-party consent", Kodeks Karny art 267.3). The recording itself, though, may not be used or distributed freely (Kodeks Cywilny art 23) -- using it in a court case is okay, so is using it privately, but you may not distribute. A company, on the other

                • OK. I'm not a Maryland lawyer. I cannot and don't pretend to give legal advice.

                  Here's some thoughts. The Maryland statute Md. Code Ann., Cts. & Jud. Proc. 10-402 prohibits some forms of 'willful' recording. That might prohibit continuous recording, however that's not what Google/Amazon/Apple do - they record after hearing a wake word. If they mishear a wake word, is that still willful one party recording? Unless the state supreme court has ruled, I'd think there's ambiguity there.

                  From a quick Google s

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      The same as a security system with audio. If you're in someone else's house, you have no expectation of privacy. At most, they might have to put a sticker by the front door telling you about the recording devices.

      How it affects the homeowner's rights, however, is another question. I suspect the contract you agree to when you activate the device covers it, though.

  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Thursday July 13, 2017 @12:03AM (#54798403)

    "Amazon May Give Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts"

    Translation: "Amazon Has Already Given Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts"

    • And to every intelligence agency out there.
    • Translation: "Amazon Has Already Given Developers Your Private Alexa Transcripts"

      Considering the huge amount of data, to be humanly processed by people in order to improve programs, I'd be less worried than automatically processed data by Amazon AI itself.

  • Google and Amazon make their money off advertising. Neither have released a consumer product in the last 10 years that DOESN'T make money off advertising (AWS is not consumer). So why are we surprised? its the same crap over and over. Free email, cheap phones, cheap voice assistants, discounted shipping, cheap streaming services, etc. all to mine your data. There are companies that don't sell your data out there that seems to be doing fine selling high quality products. I don't want to name names for fear o
  • Google, Amazon, anyone....meta data is the new "gold" for them to sell.
  • They're unacceptable at first blush because the companies that produce them get audio recordings. Those companies aren't nearly trustworthy enough for that level of access.

    That developers can access the recordings as well makes it a million times worse. As untrustworthy as the companies are, random app developers are even less so.

    As long as this data is being sent somewhere else, these devices will not have a place in my home.

  • Vote with your feet.

    Is Alexa really that necessary given that so many people are never--never--without their smart phone that they could use to do the majority of things that Alexa does? Ditto for Apple's product and Samsung's (if they can ever work out the bugs).

  • It says it right in the headline. Transcripts, not recordings.

That's the thing about people who think they hate computers. What they really hate is lousy programmers. - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in "Oath of Fealty"

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