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Amazon's Alexa team can apparently find your home address in seconds

In the world of smart assistants, Amazon Alexa is one of the most popular and widely-used. It's accessible through smart speakers (opens in new tab), phones (opens in new tab), and smartwatches (opens in new tab), and while it's an incredibly powerful tool, the convenience of using it comes at the expense of your privacy.

Privacy concerns surrounding Alexa, Google Assistant, etc. aren't new, but according to a new report from Bloomberg, employees of Amazon's Alexa Data Services team have access to people's precise home address — and in some cases, full names, phone numbers, and more.

The Alexa Data Services team is in charge of reviewing recordings of Alexa conversations to help train the AI and has thousands of members in Boston, India, and Romania. Per Bloomberg:

Team members with access to Alexa users' geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.While there's no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device's owner.

Bloomberg says it was shown a demonstration of this, and during it, saw an Amazon employee take the latitude and longitude of one user stored in Amazon's database, entered it into Google Maps, and had an image of that area and the user's house in "less than a minute."

In addition to location data, a smaller category of employees "who tag transcripts of voice recordings to help Alexa categorize requests" have access to even more data:

After punching in a customer ID number, those workers, called annotators and verifiers, can see the home and work addresses and phone numbers customers entered into the Alexa app when they set up the device, the employee said. If a user has chosen to share their contacts with Alexa, their names, numbers and email addresses also appear in the dashboard. That data is in the system so that if a customer says "Send a message to Laura," human reviewers can make sure transcribers wrote the name correctly so that the software learns to pair that request with the Laura in the contact list.

Amazon has since issued a statement in response to this story, saying:

Access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible.

Despite that statement, one employee that spoke with Bloomberg noted that "they believed the vast majority of workers in the Alexa Data Services group were, until recently, able to use the software."

While we have no reason to believe that any user information was compromised or used maliciously, the fact that such sensitive data is so readily available is not a good look for Amazon. Then again, if you're trusting a device to live in your house and constantly listen to you, are you really that concerned with things like this?

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Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

  • "Then again, if you're trusting a device to live in your house and constantly listen to you, are you really that concerned with things like this?" Nope. I know what i am getting into by using of these things. If you care about this crap, don't own one. I am tired of these stupid stories.
  • Exactly! Completely agree.
  • I'm curious, neither of you care much about privacy, but how deep does it go? Would either of you put a Facebook portal (which were apparently not allowed to discuss) in your home?
  • Anyone who uses these devices is not concerned with privacy (at least, they value convenience more than privacy). And they are not interested in reducing efforts to "profile" everyone living in the same household. To each his own.
  • "I am tired of these stupid stories" ...but reads "stupid stories" and posts comments in "stupid stories".
  • Really? How odd. I've given them my home address. I receive packages from them. Who cares? It's amazing how everyone is worried about privacy but will still post their entire life on social media. #wakeup
  • Exactly! Thank you!
  • Paranoia. Any internet search engine can locate me easily. There was a time when a large phone book appeared on our doorstep with names, addresses and phone numbers. If you have a reason to hide, you don't have a phone, and you don't have an Alexa. Likely shouldn't even have internet, at least not from a normal ISP.
    Besides, how would I get Amazon deliveries if they did not know exactly where I was?
  • Why should this be surprising? Your cell phone company knows your address too and can find you in seconds. Anything you register with a company and your address will be on file. Stop perpetrating this foil hat nonsense about every little thing. I worked at a cell phone company in college.... news flash.. we could listen in on calls whenever we wanted for "monitoring for call quality". Alert the media!