Amazon makes Alexa more transparent with ‘Tell me what you heard’ feature

Amazon announced privacy and transparency improvements for its Alexa assistant during the Amazon Devices Event on Wednesday, September 25. 

Updates to Alexa include the addition of “Alexa, tell me what you heard,” which rolls out today, and “Alexa, why did you do that?” which comes later this year. 

By asking Alexa what was heard, Alexa reads back your most recent voice request. Asking Alexa “Why did you do that?” will prompt Alexa to explain how she came up with her response to your last voice request. 

Also beginning today is an auto delete option for Alexa customers. You can now opt in to have your Alexa voice recordings that are older than three months up to 18 months automatically deleted on an ongoing basis. 

Amazon Event 2019
Amazon senior vice president of Devices Dave Limp speaks at Amazon’s Devices Event. Jennifer McGrath

The updates are part of Amazon’s investment in privacy and the creation of the Privacy Hub for customers to manage their privacy settings and have more transparency in how their privacy is handled. 

A few months ago, Amazon updated Alexa so people could delete their Amazon Alexa recordings by saying, “Alexa, delete everything I just said.” This includes the option to auto delete, as well as delete data every three or 18 months. 

Customers also have the option now to opt out of having their Alexa voice recordings transcribed by humans. 

As more companies are offering voice assistants, the question of privacy has come into play about who is listening in on your voice assistant conversations. 

In April, Bloomberg first reported that Amazon employed thousands of workers to listen to people’s private exchanges with Amazon Alexa on Echo devices. These conversations were also transcribed to improve software and technology. 

In August, Apple issued a rare apology for allowing contractors to listen to Siri recordings and announced that they won’t be listening in on your Siri conversations by default anymore. Amazon suspended its grading program after the news of Apple’s Siri program broke.

Google also reportedly used third-party contractors to transcribe Google Assistant commands, according to a July report by Belgian’s VRT NWS. Earlier this month, Google confirmed to ArsTechnica that they paused the reviews of their Google Assistant globally.

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