Amazon Alexa Voice Recordings are Stored Indefinitely

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In a letter to U.S. senators Amazon said it keeps your Alexa voice recordings indefinitely unless you manually delete them.

In the letter to Coons, Amazon noted that for Alexa requests that involve a transaction, like ordering a pizza or hailing a rideshare, Amazon and the skill’s developers can keep a record of that transaction. That means that there’s a record of nearly every purchase you make on Amazon’s Alexa, which can be considered personal information.

Toyota Retrofits Older Vehicles for Apple CarPlay

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Owners of Toyota’s Camry and Sienna vehicles will be able to add Apple CarPlay and Amazon Alexa as part of a retrofit.

Toyota says it will be notifying Camry and Sienna owners and “encouraging them to contact their dealer” about the retrofit; the installation will be done at dealerships. We reached out to Toyota to ask if the retrofit costs anything, and a spokesperson for the brand said there “may be a small service charge” and that dealers will be able to provide more information. Toyota doesn’t say how long it will actually take to complete the installation.

Amazon's Alexa is Listening to You - More Than You Might Know

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Amazon Echo and Echo Spot

Bloomberg reports:

Tens of millions of people use smart speakers and their voice software to play games, find music or trawl for trivia. Millions more are reluctant to invite the devices and their powerful microphones into their homes out of concern that someone might be listening.

Sometimes, someone is.

The article goes on to explain how Amazon employs thousands of people around the world to  listen, transcribe and annotate conversations with Alexa. All in an effort to improve Alexa’s ability to understand human speech. Of course, Amazon has strict policies and the user identities are anonymized. But still… Seriously?

Amazon Alexa HIPAA Skills Come to the Device

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Amazon announced six Alexa HIPAA-compliant skills are coming today. They will be for patients and caregivers.

Now Atrium Health patients in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia can ask Alexa to schedule same-day appointments, while Express Scripts members can check the status of a home delivery prescription and can request Alexa notifications when their prescription orders are shipped. Meanwhile, the Livongo Alexa skill lets people check recent blood sugar readings and monitor their blood sugar levels. Other developers or healthcare companies that are interested in adding skills to Alexa must apply to an invite-only Alexa program to participate.

Nothing will go wrong, right?

Amazon's Super Bowl LIII Ad Won't Trigger Alexa

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Amazon Echo Dot responding to

The adverts are likely to be as big a talking point from this weekend’s Super Bowl as the football. Techcrunch reported on  how  Amazon stops those ads waking millions of Alexa’s across the country. The procedure is relatively simple if Amazon is producing the advert itself. If it isn’t, but “the audio of a request matches that of requests from at least two other customers, we identify it as a media event,” the company explained.  So, come Super Bowl Sunday there should be no incidents like that South Park one.

With its own ads, the company adds a fingerprint of the audio, which is stored on-device. Given the Echo’s storage limitations, additional fingerprints are stored in the cloud, where the assistant can cross-check things before waking. The system generally works pretty well, though complications can occur in, say, a noisy environment (what Super Bowl party has ever been noisy, though?) in which case a longer clip is required to do its job.

Cortana no Longer an Alexa or Google Home Competitor

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Google Home smart speaker

Microsoft no longer sees its Cortana digital assistant as a competitor to the more popular Alexa and Google Home. The company’s CEO, Satya Nadella, said that it should be further integrated with its rivals’ platforms instead, The Verge reported. Microsoft and Amazon already partnered for some Cortana/Alexa integration, and this is clearly where Microsoft intends to take the product next – more of an app or service across multiple platforms, not hardware to be sold.

CEO Satya Nadella revealed that Microsoft no longer sees Cortana as a competitor to Alexa or Google Assistant. “Cortana needs to be that skill for anybody who’s a Microsoft 365 subscriber,” explains Nadella, referencing Microsoft’s new consumer subscription push. “You should be able to use it on Google Assistant, you should be able to use it on Alexa, just like how you use our apps on Android and iOS so that’s at least how we want to think about where it’ll go.”

Apple's Services Future. It's Going to Be Different.

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Apple’s growing services business, and its increasing openness to having its software on other people’s hardware, is one of the most fascinating stories in tech at the moment. Tech blogger turned venture capitalist M.G. Siegler has written an excellent summary of the situation on Medium. As he says, the future for the company “is going to be… different.”

Incidentally, it was a pod that really started to change the equation. The iPod. In order to reach a wider audience with that device, Apple had to do something that was seemingly against Steve Jobs’ DNA: make software for Windows. (Ice water! In Hell!) And the slope ultimately proved slippery, albeit in a slow way. Eventually, we got (and then lost) Safari for Windows. And in the more recent era, Apple Music for Android. And Alexa.

Alexa - Stop Listening To Me

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Alexa Calling uses your Echo or Alexa app for voice calls

As ever more people buy smart speaker devices likes the Amazon Echo, the privacy concerns around such devices increase too. I’ve always been somewhat wary of them. Not that I’d be discussing much of any interest, but the idea of a device sitting in my home listening out attentively for a keyword, rather freaked me out. For Tom Hoggins, those concerns got too much. He explains in the Telegraph why he unplugged his Amazon Echo Dot.

I am not usually one for tin-hat conspiracies, but with the examples mounting and the increased scrutiny on companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook (among many others) for excessive data gathering, I did start to eye Alexa with some suspicion. It then showed an increased propensity for piping up over the dinner table, playing music without being asked or blurting out random facts when the ‘Alexa’ wake word had not been uttered in earnest. By that point, it was time for Alexa to go unplugged.

HAL-9000: Meet Alexa. Sorry Dave

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The Verge has picked up on an Indiegogo project from the Master Replicas Group. Licensed from Warner Bros, it’s a replica of the HAL-9000 communications station from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. MRG says they’ll marry this unit with Amazon’s Alexa technology.  OMG. Now you can have the best of both of these voice assistants. (Hopefully with none of the downsides.) Pre-order now for January delivery. Starts at US$419.

HAL-9000: Meet Alexa. Sorry Dave