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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Daily News Roundup: Amazon Keeps Your Voice Recordings Forever

Every time you speak to Alexa, it sends a recording of your voice to Amazon’s servers. If you’ve ever wondered how long Amazon keeps that transcript, the company has an answer for you. Indefinitely—or until you delete the data manually.

Alexa isn’t always recording everything you say. Most of the time, it just listens for the wake word (Alexa, Echo, or Computer), but once you do say that wake word, everything that follows is recorded and sent to Amazon’s servers. The cloud servers are the real intelligence behind Alexa; they parse what you say and then send an appropriate response.

What wasn’t clear is what happened after. We knew that Amazon kept the recording for an unspecified amount of time. Having the transcripts are useful for improving the service, and you can even listen to your requests as well. But we didn’t know if Amazon ever deleted the data.

Amazon recently answered that question in a letter to Senator Chris Coons, and you may not like what it has to say:

We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.

That is, if you don’t go out of your way to delete your data, Amazon won’t either. It will keep your voice recordings forever. You can, of course, choose to delete the data manually. Amazon did go on to specify that when you do this, your voice recording truly is removed. But some underlying data may be kept when necessary. If, for instance, you asked Alexa to purchase something, then transaction data is saved for purchase records purposes.

If you ordered an Uber or Lyft, while Amazon deletes the actual recording of your voice requesting the service, the outside companies, like Uber, still have a record that you used the service, and your pickup and dropoff point and any other information Amazon shared with the third-party company. It isn’t clear from Amazon’s answer if the company shares a copy of your voice recording with skill developers.

Deleting your data is, thankfully, rather simple and you can even do so by voice now. We’d still like to see Amazon follow in Google’s footsteps and stop retaining voice recordings sent to cloud servers by default. [CNET]

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