New Patent Filing Of Amazon Alexa Could Have Considerable Privacy Concerns

Prompts on how to use Amazon's Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon ‘experience centre’ in Vallejo, California,
Prompts on how to use Amazon's Alexa personal assistant are seen in an Amazon ‘experience centre’ in Vallejo, California, U.S., May 8, 2018. (Photo: To match Insight AMAZON.COM-ALEXA/ REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage)

Amazon recently filed a patent for Amazon Alexa that would enable the smart speaker to begin recording audio even before users mention the wake word. The patent filing states that it will enable users to communicate with the voice assistant in a more natural way. While the patent filing appears to be harmless and only intends to make the voice assistant more efficient and convenient to use, several groups are concerned on the considerable privacy consequences of the device's ability to record audio.

The patent filing only means that Amazon Alexa will be able to look backward at the words said aloud before hearing its name. For instance, is a user asked the smart speaker, What is the weather forecast today, Alexa? The voice assistant will hear the trigger or wake word Alexa and will instantly recall the phrases uttered before the wake word. In order to achieve this, the smart speaker will be regularly recording, saving, and processing phrases. It will also delete these speeches should it consider the phrases irrelevant.

If the feature gets a nod from the US Patent and Trademark Office, it will considerably raise privacy concerns among users. The patent filing tries to consider that concern and offers users the choice to enable Amazon Alexa to record and save audio from 10 to 30 seconds. According to an Amazon spokesman, just like other companies, they also filed several patent applications that try to integrate new innovative ideas that may or may not make it to the final products purchased by the consumers.

The spokesman further said that patent filings take several years before getting approval and do not essentially reflect the present or future state of the applicant's products or services. Should the patent gets approval, the recording limit may still not be acceptable to some. Time and again, Amazon has proven that on various occasions, Amazon Alexa recordings are not as private as users think. Several reports disclosed that Amazon hires a team to listen and process Amazon Alexa's recordings.

Those people to do the job of listening and processing audio recordings could gain access to sensitive and personal information like location. It is worth noting that Amazon was recently ordered by a court to surrender the audio of the person's smart speaker because it wrongfully sent the recordings to someone else. For now, Amazon Alexa will start listening to commands whenever it hears the wake word.

© 2019 Business Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Sign Up for Newsletters and Alerts