Remember a couple of weeks ago when we learned that humans were monitoring Amazon Alexa commands, essentially spying on users in the name of product improvement? Well, we have some more bad news about the always-on microphone that we’ve all invited into our homes. Employees at Amazon can “easily” discover any user’s home address.
The report comes from unnamed Amazon employees who talked with Bloomberg News about the distressing situation:
Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.
Bloomberg makes clear that there haven’t been any reports of Amazon employees or contractors actually abusing this power and tracking down users at home. But they say that this backend feature gives employees “unnecessarily broad access to customer data”.
Amazon doesn’t deny that its employees can easily locate users but downplays the significance of these revelations.
“Access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions,” an Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo by email.
The only problem? Amazon didn’t specify how many a “limited number” of employees might be. According to Bloomberg, it might be in the thousands.
“Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems,” the spokesperson continued. “We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.”
But somehow it gets even worse. Bloomberg spoke to one Amazon employee who said that Amazon’s backend also displayed user phone numbers. That feature has allegedly been taken offline, but who knows what else is going on over there? Certainly not Alexa consumers.
The Amazon Alexa technology really is one of the perfect products for our era. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s a privacy nightmare that serves as a constant reminder of the fact that we live in a techno-dystopia of our own making.
If you still have an Alexa or any other voice assistant in your home, you were warned. If you haven’t tossed your Echo into the sea by now, that’s on you. Because Silicon Valley clearly has no interest in honouring your privacy.