Amazon’s Favorite New Word Is ‘Privacy,’ But Does It Even Know the Meaning?

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Amazon’s Favorite New Word Is ‘Privacy,’ But Does It Even Know the Meaning?

Illustration for article titled Amazon's Favorite New Word Is 'Privacy,' But Does It Even Know the Meaning?

Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty

Few companies have done more than Amazon to dilute the meaning of the word “privacy.” A little more than a decade ago, “privacy” was a word used by people to describe the state of being alone and unobserved, away from prying eyes and ears. Today, so-called “privacy” policies are little more than legal disclosures vaguely articulating the numerous ways in which companies, like Amazon, intend to track their customers and gather their personal information

If privacy is dead, we can thank Amazon (among plenty of other companies, of course) for helping arrange its demise.

You wouldn’t know it, though, by listening to Amazon officials describe the slew of products it rolled out on Wednesday at its fall 2019 devices event. Privacy was woven throughout the company’s presentation. New commands coming to Alexa, Amazon’s personal voice assistant, will enable users to delete recordings of their commands—a big deal given the eavesdropping debacle in which Amazon was embroiled this year.

An in-depth investigation by Bloomberg in April revealed that thousands of human beings were listening to recordings of Alexa users in an attempt to improve its performance. Naturally, the company hid this from everyone, burying the language about it deep in its service terms—which, let’s be honest, no has the time to read.

The company fessed up but also attempted to downplay the invasion, telling reporters that its thousands of contracted and full-time employees only listed to “an extremely small sample” of the recordings.

What no one knew at the time is that Amazon had plans to greatly expand its line of products equipped with Alexa. On Wedneday, it rolled out new Echos, its microphone-equipped speakers; eye glasses called Echo Frames, through which Alexa can be accessed; the Echo Loop, a hideous looking ring that few people will actually buy; and various other mic’d-up products, like the Echo Flex, which you can be plugged into any electrical outlet.

With a privacy scandal hanging over its head, it fell on Amazon’s hardware and services chief, Dave Limp, to try and assuage everyone’s fears of being covertly monitored. “We’re investing in privacy across the board,” he told eventgoers, the Verge reported. “Privacy cannot be an afterthought when it comes to the devices and services we offer our customers. It has to be foundational and built in from the beginning for every piece of hardware, software, and service that we create.”

The new ability to delete Alexa recordings with a simple voice command—something that was not, you’ll note, built in from the beginning—also comes after Amazon was questioned by Senator Chris Coons and was forced to admit in a

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