Amazon wants you to feel safe while using their products. That's why, starting today, the company is updating its virtual assistant to follow a verbal command — "Alexa, delete everything I said today." — that allows users to delete Alexa history of any voice recordings you've made during the day. This marks a significant step forward for Amazon as it begins to address multiple complaints and concerns about consumer privacy.
Before this update, Alexa users had to go through the Alexa app and follow eight steps of diving through menus to delete their recordings one-by-one. The only other option was hopping onto a computer, logging into the Amazon website, and deleting everything from your account. With this voice command, users can delete a day's worth of requests without any hassle and with the same level of convenience as asking Alexa for the weather. Amazon reportedly also plans to release another update that will enable Alexa to immediately delete a recording by saying, "Alexa, delete what I just said."
This seems to come as a response to rapidly growing privacy concerns coming from Alexa users and U.S. Senators who fear Alexa is recording children and picking up other sensitive household conversations. These worries are not merely paranoia. Amazon has admitted that Alexa records everything users say after triggering her "wake word," which is usually her name. This includes sentences, phrases, or even a mishmash of words that sound similar to her wake word, as one Washington Post reporter discovered earlier this month when he delved into his Alexa archives and found recordings of background noise and snippets of conversations that were intended to be private. His findings came after Amazon claimed they fine-tuned Alexa to stop mishearing conversations as commands.
Furthermore, these recordings don't always just stay on Alexa or the Amazon servers. According to Bloomberg, Amazon has a team of employees who listen to these voice recordings to help train Alexa's accuracy. These recordings are sometimes shared among employees in normal workplace chats to vent or relieve stress. And, unfortunately, these recordings can be shared with the wrong person. This is what happened to a German man in December 2018, who received voice recordings taken from Alexa that revealed numerous details about how and where someone else lived.
To complicate privacy issues even further, Amazon has also handed over voice recordings after being issued warrants for their collection. This happened once in 2017 and again in 2018 during a case where the police suspected Alexa picked up conversations of the crime. Although Amazon initially fought the warrants, they eventually handed the data over. For users concerned about controlling the privacy of their own home, it has appeared for years that they had little choice in the matter when it came to owning an Alexa-enabled device.
Alexa's new command is not the perfect solution, The Verge noted, since the company still "doesn't provide a way to disable the long-term storage of voice recordings or have them deleted on a regular basis." But Amazon is also reportedly working on an "Alexa Privacy Hub" that will allow users to possess greater control over the privacy of their devices.
In addition to this update, Amazon announced the Echo Show 5 — a smart display that can operate as a clock or digital photo album. With customer feedback in mind, this new addition to Amazon's home device lineup features a small shutter that can cover the built-in camera. It's a positive step that is, hopefully, part of a continued effort on Amazon's part to continue making adjustments to address customers' privacy.