Amazon has confirmed that it keeps transcripts of users' Alexa voice recordings indefinitely on its servers. The company also keeps Alexa voice recordings indefinitely. According to Amazon, customers customers do have an option to delete both the transcripts and voice recordings.

This comes after US Senator Chris Coons sent a letter to Jeff Bezos, CEO and Founder of Amazon, raising some privacy concerns.

"Devices like Amazon’s Echo can make consumers’ lives easier–they can play our favorite music, order dinner, and adjust the temperature in our homes, all with a simple verbal command. While this technology can be helpful, it’s important that the right privacy protections are in place. Recent reports have raised questions about how Amazon collects and stores voice data. Senator Jeff Flake and I sent a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos asking what steps are being taken to protect consumer privacy and ensure information is not shared without consent," said Coons.

Letter by US Senator Chris Coons that was sent to Jeff Bezos.

Responding to this, Brian Huseman, Vice President of Public Policy at Amazon, confirmed in letter that Amazon does keep transcripts and voice recordings indefinitely, and only removes them if they're manually deleted by users.

"When a customer deletes a voice recording, we delete the transcripts associated with the customer’s account of both of the customer’s request and Alexa’s response. We already delete those transcripts from all of Alexa’s primary storage systems, and we have an ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems. We do not store the audio of Alexa’s response. However, we 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," wrote Huseman.

What makes this even a bigger privacy concern is that the transcripts and voice recordings retained by Amazon are not anonymized and are directly linked to a customer's account including when possibly being reviewed by Amazon staff and systems or third party developers who create Amazon Alexa skills.

"As described in answer 1(d), we allow customers to review the transcripts of their Alexa interactions as part of our Voice History feature, which requires us to keep the transcripts associated with the customer’s account."

Also concerning, despite Huseman writing that transcripts are deleted from "Amazon's primary storage systems" is that he also in the same response letter states that "we have an ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems." This sounds like the transcripts are not entirely deleted.

All this becomes even more alarming when you consider the amount of households that have Amazon's smart speakers in their homes where children use them regularly. Some activists have also said that storing children's recordings could be in violation of some laws.

It remains to be seen what further action will be taken after these confirmations by Amazon.

Response letter by Brian Huseman, Vice President of Public Policy at Amazon.
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