Users of Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant can now request that recordings of their voice commands delete automatically. Amazon says it saves such commands to improve the service.
Amazon says it saves such commands to improve the service. But the practice has raised concerns with privacy experts who say the recordings could get into the wrong hands, especially as Amazon and other companies use human reviewers rather than just machines.
Previously, users had to go into Alexa’s settings and delete recordings manually. Users can now ask Amazon to automatically delete recordings after three months or 18 months. But users need to specify that in the settings, as recordings are kept indefinitely by default. And there’s no automatic option for immediate deletion. Users would still need to do that manually.
The company plans to roll out a feature that lets users of the Alexa voice-based assistant automatically delete their verbal recordings regularly, on a rolling three-month and 18-month basis. Previously, Alexa users had to manually delete their stored voice recordings on a companion website.
“We care about this,” Dave Limp, the leader of Amazon’s devices and services business, said of privacy during a press event at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. “Privacy is absolutely foundational to everything that we do in and around Alexa.”
Google is also restarting the practice of reviewing voice commands to improve its digital assistant, though it’s now making it clear human transcribers might listen to recordings. The company also said it will delete most recordings after a few months, and people can review their recordings and delete them manually at any time.
The company unveiled a new Echo Show speaker with an 8-inch screen, adding to a line that already includes 5-inch and 10-inch displays. The new 8-inch model costs $129 with pre-orders beginning today. The Echo Flex, meantime, is a new category of the smart speaker that plugs directly into a wall outlet, unlike other Echo devices, which connect to outlets through a cable. The Echo Flex, at $24.99, will integrate with new motion and light sensors and have an API so developers can write commands for it.
Many owners of smart speakers use the devices primarily to listen to music or stream radio stations or podcasts. Amazon has lately sharpened its focus on audiophiles, launching a high-definition music streaming service earlier this month and, at a similar gadget event a year ago, introducing a range of subwoofers, amplifiers and other electronics designed to enhance Alexa’s profile as a music hub. Still, those devices haven’t been mass-market hits, and some of them are among the more poorly reviewed gadgets in Amazon’s Echo line.