Jul 20, 2019 | Updated: 08:51 AM EDT

Alexa Transcripts Lives On Even After Deleting Audio

May 09, 2019 08:14 PM EDT

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A few weeks ago, a major privacy concern surfaced when Amazon's practice of having employees listen to Alexa conversations came to light. A lot were outraged, and most were shaken with the knowledge that their personal information and personal conversations might just be "available" to just about anyone for the taking.

And now, it seemed that Amazon has another privacy issue. Even after Alexa hears its wake word and its green light comes on, not only does it starts listening but it also transcribes everything it hears.

That's well and good, right? Because you have an option to delete them. Wrong! Every time you opt to delete the recordings, only the audio is deleted, the transcription of that particular audio remains and Amazon doesn't give you any option to delete them. The company still has the transcribed data saved in its cloud servers.

In a statement released by Amazon, they erase the text transcripts from Alexa's "main system" but is working on removing them from other areas where data can travel.

"When a customer deletes a voice recording, we also delete the corresponding text transcript associated with their account from our main Alexa systems and many subsystems, and have work underway to delete it from remaining subsystems," an Amazon spokesperson said.

"Here's what I tell all of our business executives and consumers: 'Delete' is never really 'delete,'" said Theresa Payton, a former White House chief information officer and founder of cyber security company Fortalice. "Delete just means that you can't see it anymore." Deleting the recordings from your end just gives you a sense of false security.

In a report on Alexa's privacy and data handling, Amazon stated text data are stored "for machine learning purposes." Amazon doesn't delete that data until the machine learning training is completed; though it wasn't clear how long that process takes.

Currently, a group of consumers filed a complaint against Amazon with the Federal Trade Commission. The complaint claimed that the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition was retaining the kids' data even after parents deleted the voice recordings and is instead stored in Alexa's "Remember" feature. It wasn't until parents called customer service to delete the entire profile itself that data was deleted entirely. When asked, Amazon still stated that the Echo Dot Kids Edition is compliant with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

All these concerns, along with many others and not only from Amazon but from other tech giants as well, are surfacing and it seemed like they are not doing much about them. It now seemed to be up to us consumers to be wary and careful of the information we put out there, to always keep our own privacy in mind when interacting with these techs that we use every day of our lives.

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