Tech columnist: Consumers waking up to Amazon Alexa’s ‘data grab’

Smart speakers have made everyday life so much easier: Turning off the thermostat from a room away, or starting up the smart vacuum, all while you’re following the recipe that Alexa pulled up for you, are only a few examples of the skills of a smart assistant.

But with about 120 million smart speakers in homes nationwide, these high-tech conveniences may be costing Americans their privacy, and consumers are finally waking up to the faults of some of the devices — specifically Alexa.

“I think a lot of smart-speaker owners don’t realize this, but Amazon keeps a copy of everything Alexa records after it hears its name, and sometimes even when it doesn’t hear its name,” Washington Post technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler told WTOP.

After going through about four years’ worth of those recordings, Fowler said, he found thousands of recordings that included parts of his family’s life.

And while Amazon argues it needs the recordings to improve Alexa’s voice recognition, Fowler said he doesn’t buy it.

“Their arch rival Google, which makes Google home devices and also has the very powerful Google Assistant, last year changed its policies, and it stopped recording our voices when we use it by default … They say they don’t actually need all that data to make Assistant understand us,” Fowler said.

“So I feel what’s really going on here is really a data grab in our homes, and I think it’s happening not just in smart speakers but across a whole bunch of connected stuff in our lives.”

Fowler said some state legislatures are working to combat smart speakers from keeping recordings, but it’s up to tech companies to work toward protecting consumers’ privacy.

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