Wednesday, 21 August, 2019

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

Amazon Echo devices.
Credit
Andrew Burton  Bloomberg Amazon Echo devices. Credit Andrew Burton Bloomberg
Russell Knight | 27 April, 2019, 07:14

In a demonstration, an anonymous Amazon employee demonstrated how, using the map coordinates provided by each Alexa device, they can instantly call up the physical address and even a Street View picture.

Although there are no concrete reports on whether Amazon employees with this level of access have abused it, a few members of the Alexa team are concerned that the company is risking user privacy by granting such broad access unnecessarily. In fact, analysts are predicting they'll be in most United States homes by late next year.

"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", wrote the spokesperson via email.

Amazon said it forbids employees from accessing customer information for other purposes, and performs audits to limit employee access to user data wherever possible.

A spokesperson for Amazon said: "Access to internal tools".

"Anytime someone is collecting where you are, that means it could go to someone else who could find you when you don't want to be found", said Lindsey Barrett, a staff attorney and teaching fellow at Georgetown Law's Communications and Technology Clinic. The employee took less than a minute to find all the details just from one recording of the person's Alexa command. According to Bloomberg, some Amazon employees who listen to and transcribe customer conversations with Alexa can look up the location data of those customers. The same team could also access the users' location information in the form of longitude and latitude.

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In a list of frequently asked questions about Alexa, Amazon says it uses mobile device location to provide more relevant answers and recommendations, and to enable features like reminders created to trigger when a user reaches a certain place.

Location data, which is gathered by many tech companies and services, allows Alexa to give better answers to questions that hinge on the user's whereabouts.

Amazon doesn't deny that its employees can easily locate users but downplays the significance of these revelations. After the events, would you still get an Amazon Echo?

So far, there is no evidence that employees have been playing games with this information.

One employee revealed to the business resource that workers could see home and work addresses, as well as the phone numbers customers entered into the Alexa app when setting up the device. We use mobile devices' geolocation, provided by the customer, for relevant responses (e.g., weather, traffic, restaurant recommendations) and to enable certain features (such as location-based Reminders and Routines).

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