Amazon Alexa Capturing Audio of People Having Sex, Possible Sexual Assaults: Report

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The updated Amazon Alexa Plus,is on display in Amazon's Day 1 building in Seattle on September 20, 2018. GRANT HINDSLEY/Getty

Amazon contractors may be eavesdropping on consumers' personal conversations, including perhaps during their most intimate moments, according to a new report about the popular in-home digital assistant.

The British tabloid The Sun heard from a former Alexa analyst in Bucharest who said that Amazon employees in the Romanian capital have spoken about listening in on couples having sex, and on possible instances of sexual assault.

"It's been said that couples having sex and even what sounded like a sex attack have been heard by staff," the 28-year-old analyst said to the paper. "Amazon told us everyone we were listening to had consented so I never felt like I was spying."

The Sun report follows an April exposé from Bloomberg that began to unravel the intricate process of self-proclaimed quality assurance that Amazon implements in order to improve speech recognition patterns on Alexa devices.

"The [audio review] team comprises a mix of contractors and full-time Amazon employees who work in outposts from Boston to Costa Rica, India and Romania," Bloomberg reported. "They work nine hours a day, with each reviewer parsing as many as 1,000 audio clips per shift, according to two workers based at Amazon's Bucharest office, which takes up the top three floors of the Globalworth building in the Romanian capital's up-and-coming Pipera district."

The integrity of Alexa's privacy safeguards and compliance with privacy laws have come into question in recent months. Four U.S. senators sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in early May asking the agency to investigate Amazon's digital assistant for kids over concerns that, through rampant data collection, the company was violating the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

The Sun's reporting did not ascertain the nationalities of anyone captured in the recordings, but consumer privacy groups have raised red flags over possible violations of U.S. law for recorded incidents involving U.S. consumers.

Marc Rotenberg, the president of the digital privacy watchdog EPIC, told Newsweek that corporations generally can't get around federal wiretapping laws "by saying 'we're just doing testing.'"

"The companies claim that recordings only start with the use of an alert word, but there's lots of evidence that's not correct," Rotenberg said of the broader digital assistant market. "They seem to be routinely monitoring speech, which is not surprising if you're trying to catch an alert. But from our perspective this is classic unlawful surveillance."

In response to a request for comment, an Amazon spokesperson defended the company's process of human-based review of captured recordings to improve its speech recognition algorithms.

"We take the security and privacy of our customers' information seriously," the spokesperson told Newsweek in a written statement. "We have strict technical and operational safeguards in place to protect customer privacy, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Data associates do not receive information that can identify customers, access to internal tools is highly controlled, and customers can delete voice recordings associated with their account at any time."

Amazon would not specifically address the allegations involving possible recordings of sex or sexual assault that were printed in The Sun.

Amazon Alexa Capturing Audio of People Having Sex, Possible Sexual Assaults: Report | News