Amazon is launching a range of new virtual assistant devices, despite ongoing concerns about the privacy of consumers who use Alexa – its smart helper technology.
The tech giant announced a number of new Echo smart speakers, plus a pair of earphones, glasses, and a ring which will be the first wearables to support the voice-activated software.
Along with other tech firms with AI assistants Amazon has recently come under the spotlight concerning their privacy practices. This follows the discovery of industry-wide plans to see audio data from user interactions with software such as Alexa being listened to and analyzed by human staff.
Critics have accused the tech industry of a lack of transparency, by failing to clearly state that other people may hear the recordings as part of the programs, which were conducted to help improve speech recognition technology.
Amazon, Apple, and Google have employed human transcribers to listen to recorded snippets and transcribe them, in order to improve the accuracy of their software. However, it was felt that users were not made sufficiently aware that other people may be listening to what they say in the their own homes.
Responding to the complaints, Amazon said it would enable users to opt-out of the analysis of their audio by humans, while other vendors have “paused” their programs completely.
Amazon devices boss Dave Limp said, at the company’s media event last Wednesday that Amazon was committed to user privacy and that it was “foundational” to every device made by the firm.
Limp also announced a number of new Alexa features, designed to give users greater control over their data – including the ability to ask Alexa what the assistant heard and a new auto-delete tool which automatically erases a user’s saved audio recordings every three or 18 months.
A service “can’t be private unless you give [customers] this control”, Mr Limp argued.
He also revealed that Amazon had been improving the ‘wake word’ engine, which powers Alexa’s understanding of when it hears its own name and starts recording.
Mr added that it had become 50% more accurate in the last 12 months, reducing the number of false wakes and unintentional recording of private conversations.