Congress Asks Amazon to Supply up To 30 Answers to Questions on Echo’s Misbehaviors
Several Amazon Echo users have reported that their device snoops on their conversations. But the manufacturer says the product only misbehaves when it misinterprets voice commands. This has raised concerns that consumer privacy is not protected by tech companies, as evidenced by Facebook’s recent data breach where Cambridge Analytica is alleged to have exploited up to 87 million users’ data for political gains, Wired writes.
To be certain that tech companies, Amazon Echo in this particular instance, is not collecting users data and using them in unknown ways, two senators wrote to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain how Echo collects and uses owners data. Republican Senator Jeff Flake and Democratic Senator Chris Coons wrote up nearly 30 questions for Bezos to answer on how Echo collects users’ data and to what use the company puts such data.
“The Age of Innocence Is Gone,” Senator Flake Says About Consumer Data Privacy
Both Senators Flake and Coons are members of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.
“Congress is feeling that we need to be ahead of the curve here,” Senator Flake stated. “Companies are establishing procedures and protocols, and we need to know what they are to make sure that privacy is protected.”
In the letter, the senators referred to Facebook’s recent data issue with Cambridge Analytica and that of a Portland woman whose Echo device recorded her private conversation without her permission and sends the message to someone on her contact list. In the woman’s instance, her Amazon Echo mishears the word “Alexa” during any conversation and then instantly begins to record and later sends the recorded conversation to a random person on the woman’s contact list.
In the letter, the senators failed to agree that Echo misfired or experienced a glitch with the Portland woman. They said the device worked “precisely how it was designed”, raising fears that “this incident makes it clear we don’t fully understand the privacy risks we’re taking.”
Analysts Data Remains Forever on Amazon’s Servers until the User Deletes It Manually
The lawmakers demanded that Jeff Bezos tell the American people how the technology works, how it collects consumers’ data, how it sends the data to the company’s servers, and how the company uses the collected data. Bezos is also asked to state how frequently Echo sends voice data to Amazon’s servers, how long the recording is stored, how the data is anonymized, if consumers can delete stored recordings, and any details regarding these concern. Amazon management is also asked to release data on how many complaints it has received about Echo’s snooping habits.
Bezos is yet to fully attend to this query, but analysts say Echo’s microphone is always live and its recording mechanism gets instantly activated when the microphone picks up a “wake word” such as “Alexa”. The recorded conversation is sent to Amazon servers and remains there indefinitely until the consumer manually deletes it using the Alexa app. The analysts say it is possible for Echo to misbehave when it mishears a voice command or believes it’s hearing something that’s not really said.