It appears Alexa voice recordings that have been deleted have not actually been deleted. At least, not in all forms.
Users have recently become more aware of the storing of audio recordings and how to delete them. However, it seems when a user instructs a voice recording to be deleted, it is only the voice recording that’s fully deleted. The transcript lives on in some places and is therefore still accessible by Amazon if it wants to access them.
Besides users presumably being unaware of this, there's currently no option offered to delete the transcripts. They just continue to exist.
Responding to the report, an Amazon spokesperson looked to confirm that transcripts are deleted off the company’s main Alexa system as well as some subsystems, but did acknowledge they're not deleted everywhere. The same provided statement explained Amazon has “work underway to delete it from remaining subsystems.”
No further information was provided on this work or when the fruits of it will be evident. In other words, there’s not much consumers can do about this in the meantime.
Besides the immediate implications, this is only the latest in a number of reports that have highlighted the difficulty in tech companies effectively protecting user data.
Alexa is a widespread entity now and can be found in many different smart devices in the home, including the company’s own Echo-branded line of products.
Similarly, Google and Facebook also have hardware products on the market that also use sophisticated technologies and have also come under fire for either accidentally or intentionally collecting more user data than they should.
These collective instances have added to the uncertainty some people feel when it comes to the benefits of new-age smart products, while at the same time increasingly eroding trust in some of the biggest names in the industry.
Facebook recently entered the hardware market with its Portal line of smart speakers and soon afterwards had to admit that these speakers can collect data for ad-targeting purposes. This is in spite of Facebook making a big play during the launch of how privacy matters.
In this particular device’s case, it also comes with a version of Alexa built-in and therefore is likely to also be subject to the saving of transcript data.
For clarity, Facebook’s Portal webpage states “you can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log.” However, that’s not to say when Alexa is used the data is still deleted. It apparently won’t be and any user who does delete through Facebook’s Activity Log will likely only be deleting what Facebook has collected. Alexa’s data is not data Facebook collects in the first place.
While Google is slightly different as its product make use of Google Assistant instead of Alexa, in principle the same issues could be in effect. According to the report, a Google spokesperson explained text data is deleted when an audio recording is deleted.
On the surface, this is the same as what Amazon says, so there remains the underlying question of whether text data is deleted from everywhere it travels to.