According to the jury, the Big Brother Award honors data offenders in business and politics. Among this year’s award winners is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service Alexa.

Amazon markets Alexa and the associated end devices as practical helpers: “Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot are voice-controlled loudspeakers with a hands-free device that are precisely tailored to the voice of the user – always ready, fast and completely hands-free in operation,” says the company. “Alexa is “the brain” of Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot – simply approach and Alexa answers, plays music, reads messages, announces alarm clocks, checks appointments, the sports results, controls lights and lamps in the house and much more”.

Long storage of recordings is criticized

To ensure these functions, the voice recordings are evaluated and the actions desired by the user are started. The jury of the Big Brother Awards criticized the storage of this data. This was one of the reasons why Amazons Alexa received the unflattering award in the category “consumer protection”. The explanatory statement states: “It is known that Alexa processes voice recordings in the cloud. It is worth the price that these monitoring data are also stored in the cloud and can still be played back months later. This allows the monitoring of household members and it is unclear who else has access to them.”

Jury sees questionable potential

It is also unclear what the data would be used for with increasing technical progress. It is conceivable that the devices will soon also be able to record advertising or recognize the mood of the user. The eulogy says: “This is not About “abuse”. It’s about the potential this device has. And the potential Amazon has to exploit it mercilessly.” The business model includes the collection of data, “the exploration of people and their habits, their most secret desires, their friendships, their political convictions and their health problems”. Amazon itself does not give exact sales figures of the Alexa terminals. But according to a survey by the statistics portal Statista, almost six percent of all Germans use the Amazon echo on which Alexa is installed.

Third Big Brother Award for Amazon in total

This is the third time Amazon has received a Big Brother Award. In 2015, the Group received an award in the “Workplace” category. The reasons were clauses in employment contracts which, according to the jury, violated the personal rights of the employees. Also in 2015, Amazon received the award for the crowdworking platform Amazon Mechanical Turk. The Big Brother Awards have been presented to companies, organizations and individuals in Germany since 2000. In the opinion of the jury, they have in a special way and lastingly affected the privacy of people, sold personal data or used it against original interests. This year, in addition to Amazon, Microsoft Germany and the parliamentary groups of the CDU and the Green Party of the state Hesse were honored.


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Image: Amazon