Citing sources familiar with the program, Bloomberg reported Thursday that “dozens” of workers for the e-commerce giant who are based in Romania and India are tasked with reviewing footage collected by Cloud Cams—Amazon’s app-controlled, Alexa-compatible indoor security devices—to help improve AI functionality and better determine potential threats. Bloomberg reported that at one point, these human workers were responsible for reviewing and annotating roughly 150 security snippets of up to 30 seconds in length each day that they worked.
Two sources who spoke with Bloomberg told the outlet that some clips depicted private imagery, such as what Bloomberg described as “rare instances of people having sex.” An Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that reviewed clips are submitted either through employee trials or customer feedback submissions for improving the service.
So to be clear, customers are sharing clips for troubleshooting purposes, but they aren’t necessarily aware of what happens with that clip after doing so.
More troubling, however, is an accusation from one source who spoke with Bloomberg that some of these human workers tasked with annotating the clips may be sharing them with members outside of their restricted teams, despite the fact that reviews happen in a restricted area that prohibits phones. When asked about this, a spokesperson told Gizmodo by email that Amazon’s rules “strictly prohibit employee access to or use of video clips submitted for troubleshooting, and have a zero tolerance policy for about of our systems.”
To be clear, it’s not just Amazon who’s been accused of allowing human workers to listen in on whatever is going on in your home. Motherboard has reported that both Xbox recordings and Skype calls are reviewed by human contractors. Apple, too, was accused of capturing sensitive recordings that contractors had access to. The fact is these systems just aren’t ready for primetime and need human intervention to function and improve—a fact that tech companies have successfully downplayed in favor of appearing to be magical wizards of innovation.