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Security & privacy

Alexa employees can see where you live

I’ll be honest: Alexa is starting to creep some people out. As convenient and innovative as some of its features can be, the information coming from whistleblowers and former Amazon employees points towards a privacy nightmare behind the scenes.

We recently discussed how Amazon employees are manually reviewing the contents of interactions with Alexa, along with some of the disturbing details they have access to. Well, as the story continues to unfold, we’ve learned even more about how much data these hidden employees are holding. As it turns out, Alexa is storing location data about its users, and Amazon employees have access to one of the most sensitive pieces of information you own: your home address.

If Amazon is shipping to you, they already know where to send your packages. But unlike a mail service, the employees who know your address have access to an always-on microphone that learns more about you with every interaction.

How does Alexa know where I live?

The same team that transcribes your Alexa information has access to location data based on your internet connection. Just like how an ISP can figure out where you live via your IP address, Amazon makes use of similar technology.

Alexa also prompts users to give their address when they first set up the smart speaker, and asks for permission for location services on connected devices as well. Amazon claims it needs this information to provide relevant recommendations and location sensitive effects, such as turning on the light when you enter your house.

The scary part of this data collection, however, is how it ties to your user profile. Location data is automatically tagged to your personal device profile that includes your name, phone number, order history, and voice recordings. Regardless of whether one consents to this data harvesting, it’s an awful lot of private information in the hands of a group of non public-facing employees.

How can I prevent Alexa from knowing where my home is?

As it stands, there isn’t a way to prevent Alexa from knowing where you live. Because Amazon needs your address to ship your orders, that leaves a choice between not using the service or finding a PO box of some kind. Alternatively, you can use an Amazon Locker and have packages shipped to a designated location.

That being said, Alexa is still able to glean your information based on your internet connection and the data you feed it during setup. Using a voice assistant carries some inherent privacy risks, but one of the best things you can do is turn your Alexa device off when you aren’t using it. After all, the microphone can’t function without power.

When we harness the overwhelming power of technology in our daily lives, we run the risk of giving up many of our fundamental liberties. Is privacy more valuable than convenience? Is knowing that strangers have access to our daily lives worth the price of Jetsons-style living? That’s a question that users need to ask themselves.

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