Amazon reveals that Alexa recordings and transcripts are not deleted

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware) sent Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos a list of questions regarding how Amazon handles recordings from its home assistant, Alexa, in May. The response to those questions revealed that Amazon holds on to all recordings and transcripts, until and unless a customer specifically deletes them. The news follows reports from earlier this year that Amazon was paying human reviewers to listen to and transcribe Alexa recordings with the aim of improving their algorithm.

"We retain customers' voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them," Amazon said in their response to Sen. Coons.

However, even if a customer requests that their data be deleted, it may not be. Amazon says that interactions between customers and Alexa or customers and third-party services that involve transactions - like ordering a ride share or a pizza, for example - on the platform have to be stored indefinitely in order for the services to run smoothly. In other words, there's a record made of every purchase users make on Alexa that is not deletable and is stored indefinitely.

Amazon didn't specify exactly what form the saved data would take but did say "Amazon and/or the applicable skill developer obviously need to keep a record of the transaction." Additionally, there's no mention of any requirements Amazon has for third-party service providers when it comes to secure storage of Alexa interactions.

It's also not clear what Amazon does with the data related to requests to Alexa, like setting alarms or reminders. "Customers would not want or expect deletion of the voice recording to delete the underlying data or prevent Alexa from performing the requested task," Amazon said. Which begs the response: Sure, but for how long? Does Amazon really need to keep a record of an alarm someone set for years upon years? It seems unlikely - and Senator Coons isn't satisfied.

"Amazon's response leaves open the possibility that transcripts of user voice interactions with Alexa are not deleted from all of Amazon's servers, even after a user has deleted a recording of his or her voice," Sen. Coons wrote on Facebook. "What's more, the extent to which this data is shared with third parties, and how those third parties use and control that information, is still unclear. The American people deserve to understand how their personal data is being used by tech companies, and I will continue to work with both consumers and companies to identify how to best protect Americans' personal information."

While the government does its thing, Alexa users who would like to review and delete recordings and transcripts that are possible to delete need to go to Your Devices and Content Change your digital and de vice settings > Alexa Privacy. But if you're really concerned about privacy and what happens to your voice recordings? It might be time to throw away that Alexa.

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