Amazon defends Alexa privacy features but lawmaker details lingering concerns

E-commerce giant Amazon defended its consumer privacy practices on Wednesday amid inquiries from Capitol Hill over the degree to which customers can control how their private conversations are stored.

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In response to questions sent to the company from Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., Amazon confirmed that its Alexa-enabled devices store user transcripts until customers delete them – which they can do through the Alexa app and the Alexa privacy hub.

The company noted that it may “still retain other records of customers’ Alexa interactions, including records of actions Alexa took in response to the customer’s request. And when a customer interacts with an Alexa skill, that skill developer may also retain records of the interaction.”

Amazon said it uses transcripts to improve Alexa and the customer experience and to help users know what went wrong if Alexa makes a mistake.

The company also said Alexa will end a recording stream once the user ends a conversation or if the device detects silence or “speech that isn’t intended for Alexa.” It reiterated that audio is not sent to the cloud unless customers press the command button or speak to Alexa.

While Sen. Coons said he appreciated the company's response, he also voiced concerns that transcripts of users' voice interactions are not deleted from all of the company's servers.

“What’s more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear," Coons said in a statement on Wednesday.

In May, Amazon announced new privacy protections for its Alexa-enabled devices, following complaints that it violated a children’s privacy act. It created a new feature that made it easier to delete recording across all products featuring Alexa – by saying “Alexa, delete everything I said today,” the device will delete the corresponding recordings.

Amazon said customers would soon be able to delete their last request by saying “Alexa, delete what I just said.” The company was also expected to launch a “privacy hub” to give customers more information about what is collected and stored.

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This was not the first time Amazon’s smart devices were questioned over privacy concerns. Earlier this year, a reportOpens a New Window. surfaced that Amazon workers listen to and transcribe recordings. In response, the company said it only annotates an “extremely small number of interactions” in order to improve customer experience.

Last year, Amazon’s Alexa Echo reportedly recorded and sharedOpens a New Window. a private conversation.