A newly revealed patent application filed by Amazon is raising privacy concerns over an envisaged upgrade to the company’s smart speaker systems. This change would mean that, by default, the devices end up listening to and recording everything you say in their presence.
Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant system that runs on the company’s Echo series of smart speakers, works by listening out for a ‘wakeword’ that tells the device to turn on its extended speech recognition systems in order to respond to spoken commands.
In theory, Alexa-enabled devices will only record what you say directly after the wakeword, which is then uploaded to Amazon, where remote servers use speech recognition to deduce your meaning, then relay commands back to your local speaker.
But one issue in this flow of events, as Amazon’s recently revealed patent application argues, is it means that anything you say before the wakeword isn’t actually heard.
“A user may not always structure a spoken command in the form of a wakeword followed by a command (eg. ‘Alexa, play some music’),” the Amazon authors explain in their patent application, which was filed back in January, but only became public last week.
“Instead, a user may include the command before the wakeword (eg. ‘Play some music, Alexa’) or even insert the wakeword in the middle of a command (eg. ‘Play some music, Alexa, the Beatles please’). While such phrasings may be natural for a user, current speech processing systems are not configured to handle commands that are not preceded by a wakeword.”
To overcome this barrier, Amazon is proposing an effective workaround: simply record everything the user says all the time, and figure it out later.
Rather than only record what is said after the wakeword is spoken, the system described in the patent application would effectively continuously record all speech, then look for instances of commands issued by a person.
wow – a continuous spy in your home