Human Employees Are Viewing Clips from Amazon’s Home Surveillance Service
Recordings from yet another Amazon-owned smart home device are being reviewed by a team of human workers, again raising concerns that audio and video captured by such devices may not be as private as some customers might assume.
Citing sources familiar with the program, Bloomberg reported Thursday that “dozens” of workers for the e-commerce giant who are based in Romania and India are tasked with reviewing footage collected by Cloud Cams—Amazon’s app-controlled, Alexa-compatible indoor security devices—to help improve AI functionality and better determine potential threats. Bloomberg reported that at one point, these human workers were responsible for reviewing and annotating roughly 150 security snippets of up to 30 seconds in length each day that they worked.
Two sources who spoke with Bloomberg told the outlet that some clips depicted private imagery, such as what Bloomberg described as “rare instances of people having sex.” An Amazon spokesperson told Gizmodo that reviewed clips are submitted either through employee trials or customer feedback submissions for improving the service.
“Using the ‘feedback’ option in the Cloud Cam app, customers are able to share a specific clip with Amazon to improve the service,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “When a customer chooses to share a clip, it may get annotated and used for supervised learning to improve the accuracy of Cloud Cam’s computer vision systems. For example, supervised learning helps Cloud Cam better distinguish different types of motion so we can provide more accurate alerts to customers.”
What Amazon describes sounds like one of those vague prompts you see on a PC that asks if you’d like to share data to improve the service after it encountered a problem. When Gizmodo asked Amazon to clarify why a user would voluntarily choose to share a clip with the online retail giant, a spokesperson told us:
Every clip surfaced to a Cloud Cam customer has the “Send Feedback” button at the bottom (screenshot below). Customers typically send clips for feedback if there was something wrong with it, i.e. if they got a motion detection alert but the clip doesn’t contain any motion, or the resolution of the clip isn’t satisfactory.
So to be clear, customers are sharing clips for troubleshooting purposes, but they aren’t necessarily aware of what happens with that clip after doing so.
More troubling, however, is an accusation from one sou