Amazon has admitted that it retains Alexa voice recordings unless and until customers delete them. What’s more, even after you delete a voice recording, traces of it may remain on Amazon’s non-primary storage systems. None of which is good news.
Investigating How Amazon Handles Your Data
In the first half of 2019, several tech publications started investigating what Amazon was doing with people’s Alexa voice recordings. Which, for people unfamiliar with how Alexa works, is everything said immediately after saying her wake word.
Reports suggested that Amazon kept transcripts of people’s interactions with Alexa, even after the voice recordings had been deleted. Senator Chris Coons from Delaware then sent a letter to Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, and Amazon has finally responded.
Amazon Admits It Retains Alexa Voice Recordings
As reported by CNET, Coons asked two questions, starting with, “How long does Amazon store the transcripts of user voice recordings?” To which Amazon replied, “We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them.”
This is telling in its own right, as it’s Amazon admitting that it keeps Alexa voice recordings and the transcripts unless and until the customer deletes them. And if they don’t delete them then we have to assume they’re retained indefinitely.
I appreciate that Amazon responded promptly to my concerns, and I’m encouraged that their answers demonstrate an…
Coons also asked Amazon, “Do users have the ability to delete any or all of these transcripts?” After detailing how users can delete voice recordings associated with their account, Amazon delved into detail about what’s stored and where, saying:
“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.”
“When a customer interacts with an Alexa skill, that skill developer may also retain records of the interaction. For example, for many types of Alexa requests – such as when a customer subscribes to Amazon Music Unlimited, places an Amazon Fresh order, requests a car from Uber or Lyft, orders a pizza from Domino’s, or makes an in-skill purchase of premium digital content – Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction.”
“For other types of Alexa requests – for instance, setting a recurring alarm, asking Alexa to remind you of your anniversary, placing a meeting on your calendar, sending a message to a friend – customers would not want or expect deletion of the voice recording to delete the underlying data or prevent Alexa from performing the requested task.”
This is a lot of information to digest, but it’s essentially Amazon saying it’s trying its best to remove deleted transcripts from its systems, both Amazon and third-parties may retain records of transactions, and Amazon will retain some data from certain requests.
How to Delete Your Alexa Voice Recordings
Coons seems satisfied with this response, while at the same time promising to push harder to “protect Americans’ personal information”. However, we suspect that Amazon customers who interact with Alexa will have reservations about the retention of data.
Until Amazon improves the way it handles this data, all you can do is delete as much as possible. So, with that in mind, here’s how to delete voice recordings on your Amazon Echo. Or, if you’re feeling lazy, you can ask Alexa to delete your voice recordings.
Image Credit: Tony Webster/Flickr
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