Amazon explains its policy on retaining data from its voice devices.
Amazon has confirmed that it retains data yielded from voice interactions with its Alexa assistant and Echo devices, even after users wipe audio files from their accounts.
US senator Chris Coons made a request to the company last month asking how long it holds on to voice recordings and transcripts.“The American people deserve to understand how their personal data is being used by tech companies, and I will continue to work with both consumers and companies to identify how to best protect Americans’ personal information,” Coons said in a statement.
In a response published yesterday (3 July) and dated 28 June, the company noted that it holds on to all customer data unless specifically asked to delete it.
“When a customer deletes a voice recording, we delete the transcripts associated with the customer’s account of both of the customer’s request and Alexa’s response,” stated the response, penned by Amazon’s vice-president of public policy, Brian Huseman.
On its own, the lack of expiration date on retained data is enough to raise privacy concerns, yet subsequent stipulations in the letter make it clear that there are many exceptions to this rule.
Amazon said that it deletes transcripts from all of Alexa’s primary storage systems when a customer deletes recordings, though a subsequent caveat implies that this is not always successfully executed. “We have an ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.”
The company also notes that when customers interact with an Alexa skill – such as when they place Amazon Fresh orders, request an Uber or Lyft, or order a Domino’s pizza – that “Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously needs to keep a record of the transaction”. Amazon goes on to say that holding on to this data, as well as data related to recurring alarms or placing meetings on calendars, is done so for the sake of convenience and repeatability.
“Amazon’s response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon’s servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice,” Coons went on to say in his response to the letter.
“What’s more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear.”
Last month, a pair of lawsuits filed in California and Washington alleged that Alexa routinely records millions of children without their consent. The filings were essentially identical except with different plaintiffs in each respective jurisdiction.