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Amazon employees can ‘easily’ discover any user’s home address

Alexa, wtf?

amazon echo device on table
Image: Padtronics

Whew, boy, who knew that allowing microphones and AI into our homes was a bad idea? It’s only been a few short weeks since we found out that our Alexa commands are being listened to by human operators to “improve services” and now there’s a new revelation to make even the most carefree Alexa user reach for the tinfoil hat.

Seriously, this one is enough to make you want to see if your Alexa-carrying devices will blend. That news? Amazon employees (including some contractors) can easily find out your home address.

Bloomberg broke the news yesterday, with some pretty worrying quotes from the Amazon employees they spoke to under the guarantee of anonymity:

Team members with access to Alexa users’ geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

Before you grab the pitchforks and camp outside of Bezos’ mansion, Bloomberg does make it clear that to date, it doesn’t appear that the power to track users down has been abused by any Amazon employees or contractors. Still, that’s no excuse for this amount of access to customer data. We’ve seen fans fly halfway across the world to meet their favorite streamers with less access to data than Amazon’s staff has, so the security and privacy implications are pretty hefty.

For their part, Amazon doesn’t deny that some staff can access to the information needed to track users

Amazon sent an emailed statement to Gizmodo that tries to lessen the impact of this new privacy issue:

Access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions

Amazon employs well over half a million people worldwide, so the “limited number of employees” could be any number. Bloomberg estimates that it might be thousands of employees able to access the geographical data. What’s more, one employee told Bloomberg that the backend also showed customer phone numbers at one time. That feature is supposed to have been taken offline, but the fact phone numbers were accessible at all raises other questions. Just how much of the data associated with our Amazon Alexa accounts is readily readable by Amazon employees?

Alexa, delete yourself.

What do you think? Does this make you worried about owning an Alexa-enabled device? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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Maker, meme-r, and unabashed geek with nearly half a decade of blogging experience. If it runs on electricity (or even if it doesn't), Joe probably has one around his office somewhere. His hobbies include photography, animation, and hoarding Reddit gold.

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