Amazon Launches Echo Show 5 and Alexa Privacy Features

Amazon unveiled Echo Show 5, the third generation of its Alexa-enabled Echo Show, which offers a 5.5-inch 960×480-pixel diagonal smart display and built-in far-field microphones. Although in numerous ways, the Echo Show 5 resembles past generations of the device, it differs in that it includes a mechanical slide that lets the user close the shutter on the device’s front-facing camera. To assuage consumers’ privacy concerns about Alexa, Amazon has also added the “Alexa Privacy Hub,” an online collection of privacy settings.

Wired reports that, according to Amazon, “this is where users will go to manage their own privacy settings by time frame and by device.” The user will be able to “delete [his] past voice recordings from within a certain date range, control what kind of data [he] shares with Alexa ‘skills’ developers, and opt out of sharing [his] voice data for the future development of new features.”

Users will also be able to issue a voice command to clear their browsing history on Alexa. Coming up is a feature that will allow users to tell Alexa to “forget what I just said,” wiping out their last request. Amazon did not reveal, however, “whether these new commands will delete metadata, and has confirmed that the commands won’t delete any data that might have been shared in some type of transaction.”

After one Alexa user reported that her device “sent a recorded private conversation to one of her contacts,” two senators quizzed Amazon about its consumer privacy policies; last week, one of them, Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sent another letter to chief executive Jeff Bezos “asking about the company’s handling of text transcripts of customer voice recordings.”

Bloomberg reports, with regard to Amazon’s new privacy tools, that, “previously, the only way to remove recordings was a tool on the Alexa privacy website or on the companion smartphone app.” “It’s a good step in the right direction,” said University of Michigan professor Florian Schaub.

Weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that “some Amazon employees listen to users’ voice recordings as part of an effort to improve the software” and that, “in some cases, those workers can access the location of the person whose voice they are transcribing.” That created a torrent of criticism from children’s and privacy groups that demanded a Federal Trade Commission investigation.

Amazon’s creation of privacy tools also takes place as Facebook, Apple and Google highlight their own work on privacy. “It could be Amazon feels that they need to be in the same game,” said Schaub.

Related:
Newly Released Amazon Patent Shows Just How Much Creepier Alexa Can Get, ScienceAlert, 5/28/19