Alexa's human helpers revealed
Using voice assistants feels like magic, and that our AI helpers have finally arrive—but it might surprise you to learn that humans are listening in on many of your conversations with Alexa.
The story here is that a process called Alexa voice review involves a team of reviewers listening to up to 1,000 audio clips per day, manually marking phrases that weren't recognized or key figures that the searcher might have meant.
The human reviewers have access to a limited set of recordings directly, and occasionally hear something private: "a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help." But, they freely share them in internal chat, according to the report, particularly if they find something weird or funny.
What's disturbing is what happens when a worker hears something awful. In one case, workers heard "what they believe was a sexual assault" and Amazon's advice was that "it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere." Curiously, we also learn that Amazon doesn't tie full identities to this data but does attach an account number, first name, and device serial number to the audio files.
Amazon says that only a "small amount" of audio data goes through this process—but it doesn't really allude to humans reviewing it anywhere in its FAQ or privacy sections. It has always implied that machines are behind the magic, but the reality appears pretty different: there's a bunch of manual processing going on.
Voice data is a data treasure trove and a competitive advantage in the future. Amazon, Google and Apple sit on vast supplies of audio files from users speaking to their gadgets, but what happens inside that black box remains a mystery for the most part—and perhaps a liability in the long term if humans are accessing the data.
Disney is expected to reveal streaming service details on an investor call today
So far we know it'll be called Disney+ and be the exclusive place to stream the company's content. Beyond that, we don't even know if it has the technical chops to pull this off properly—or if it'll even arrive on schedule.
Google's new security features turn any Android device into a security key
A cool first toe-dip into the hardware security key world for most people, but a reminder to please go and buy a Yubikey to secure your accounts!
US lawmakers move to ban the government from offering free online tax filing
This is bizarre to me, but US lawmakers are working to push forward a law that will block the tax authorities from developing automated tax filing services. The reason behind all of this is that the big accounting companies like Intuit offer paid tax tools, starting anywhere from $39 and ranging up to $99, to file this for you—and they don't want to lose that revenue.
Back home in NZ, I've filed my taxes online for free in about 10 minutes since about 2005—and they've just moved to fully automated filing. Having to buy something to file a yearly return that's compulsory anyway is criminal, but what makes all of this so insulting is the lobbying happening in plain sight.