Amazon’s Alexa as a Hospitality Tool: Privacy Risk for your Guests?

04/11/2019

Amazon’s Alexa as a Hospitality Tool: Privacy Risk for your Guests?

Recent news has come out exposing Alexa, one of Amazon’s smart home devices, for exactly what we knew it was. An eves-dropper, listening to our most personal conversations, sharing private moments in our households, and taking that data to a company that knows how to use it.

A recent article from Bloomberg reports that “A recent Amazon job posting, seeking a quality assurance manager for Alexa Data Services in Bucharest, describes the role humans play: ‘Every day she [Alexa] listens to thousands of people talking to her about different topics and different languages, and she needs our help to make sense of it all.’ The want ad continues: ‘This is big data handling like you’ve never seen it. We’re creating, labeling, curating and analyzing vast quantities of speech on a daily basis.’”

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The Bloomberg authors go on to write, “According to Amazon’s website, no audio is stored unless Echo detects the wake word or is activated by pressing a button. But sometimes Alexa appears to begin recording without any prompt at all, and the audio files start with a blaring television or unintelligible noise. Whether or not the activation is mistaken, the reviewers are required to transcribe it. One of the people said the auditors each transcribe as many as 100 recordings a day when Alexa receives no wake command or is triggered by accident.”

Those of us in hospitality must ask ourselves, “Is this breach of privacy something I’m comfortable with exposing all of our guests to?”

David Berger, CEO of Volara who's software provides the security and privacy protections that make Alexa compliant for hotels, notes that “Dropping standard consumer technology into a guest room is at best a promotional stunt and at worst a disastrous, even negligent, act that adds no value, opens exposure to liability and can endanger hotel guests.”

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CEO of Best Western, David Kong stated in a recent interview after testing out Amazon’s Echo devices, “We found that when most people got into their hotel room, they disconnected it, presumably because they didn’t want Alexa listening to them in the room.” He goes on to later say he “found that only 20% stayed connected, the rest disconnected.”

The user agreement of Alexa must be accepted by the owner of the device. However, that line becomes quite blurry if the use of the devices extends past the homeowner and to guests who have not accepted the user agreement.

Once you get past all the massive breaches in privacy, a very simple and logical question needs to be asked: Does this help me provide top-notch hospitality to my guests? Besides the device being a nice portable speaker, the answer is a resounding NO. 77% of Americans own a smartphone that can be used to ask what the best restaurant, bar, and activities are in the area. There are fantastic products like HelloHere help to curate your own local guide, with a bit more personal touch.

At the end of the day, we must all ask ourselves whether or not it bothers you that Amazon’s Alexa is always listening to your guests’ private conversations and personal information, with or without their consent.

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