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Amazon “moving in wrong direction” with new patent for device that records everything

A new patent filed by Amazon has revealed details of a device that will have the ability to record anything said in its presence.

The patent, which was uncovered by Gizmodo, is for ‘pre-wakeword speech monitoring’, with Amazon explaining the technology as: “A system for capturing and processing portions of a spoken utterance command that may occur before a wakeword. The system buffers incoming audio and indicates locations in the audio where the utterance changes, for example when a long pause is detected. When the system detects a wakeword within a particular utterance, the system determines the most recent utterance change location prior to the wakeword and sends the audio from that location to the end of the command utterance to a server for further speech processing.”

Understandably, this news has caused a stir amongst security companies and those analysing the current state of the cyber criminal landscape.

Kaspersky Lab is one such company that has expressed its concerns over the patent, saying Amazon is “moving in the wrong direction”.

“Many Amazon Alexa users will likely be alarmed by the news that the company’s latest patent would allow the devices – commonplace in homes across the UK – to record everything a person says before even being given a command,” commented David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

“Whilst the patent doesn’t suggest it will be installed in future Alexa-enabled devices, this still signals an alarming development in the further surrender of our personal privacy. Given the amount of sensitive information exchanged in the comfort of people’s homes, Amazon would be able to access a huge volume of personal information – information that would be of great value to cybercriminals and threat actors. If the data isn’t secured effectively, a successful breach of Amazon’s systems could have a severe knock-on effect on the data security and privacy of huge numbers of people.

If this patent does comes into effect, Emm warned that consumers will need to be made very aware of the ramifications, and fully briefed on what data is being collected, how it is being used, and how they can opt out of this collection.

“Amazon may argue that analysing stored data will make their devices smarter for Alexa owners – but in today’s digital era, such information could be used nefariously, even by trusted parties. For instance, as we saw with Cambridge Analytica, public sector bodies could target election campaigns at those discussing politics,” pointed out Emm.

“There’s a world of difference between temporary local storage of sentences, to determine if the command word has been used, and bulk retention of data for long periods, or permanently – even if the listening process is legitimate and consumers have opted in. There has already been criticisms of Amazon for not making it clear what is being recorded and stored – and we are concerned that this latest development shows the company moving in the wrong direction – away from data visibility, privacy, and consent.”

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