Amazon retains text data on users even when audio recordings are deleted

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Privacy concerns around smart, voice-activated assistants have been on the rise, but customers felt a sense of relief when they discovered they could delete Amazon Alexa recordings. That relief is short-lived, as users have now realized that Amazon keeps a text record of your conversations with your assistant on its cloud servers, CNET reports. This record cannot be deleted, or at least not yet.

Of course, Amazon claims the recordings are deleted from Alexa’s main system and are working on ways to make the data inaccessible from other sources. You might ask why Amazon records this information at all. The answer, at least according to the tech giant, is that this data is used for machine-learning purposes. The white paper starts with a line meant to reassure users, but in light of recent events, it has little effect.

Concerns over these text recordings reached a fever pitch when a group of consumer health advocates claimed the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition retained children’s data long after parents deleted it. Parents realized the only way to clear the “Remember” feature was to call the company and delete the entire profile. Amazon answered this claim by saying the Echo Dot Kids Edition was compliant with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.

Whether or not the Echo Dot Kids Edition is compliant isn’t the point, however. If the public feels their devices aren’t private, then almost no amount of reassurance from Amazon will make a difference.

Other companies responded to the complaint. Google claims that both audio and text data is removed when a user deletes their information, while Apple says Siri doesn’t tie the data to any individual user — and even the information it records can be deleted at any time. Even Facebook claims to delete the data collected through its Portal system.

On top of data relating to what a user said, Amazon records the Echo’s response. Even if Amazon didn’t know the questions asked, the answers would make it easy to figure out the question.

Amazon would win a lot of customer trust by enabling these responses to be deleted. If the company uses the information to help improve the Echo’s language processing, then providing users with the ability to opt in or out of information recording might be the best step the company can take.

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