Alexa privacy fears spark questions for Amazon in Europe

A European privacy watchdog is taking a keen interest in what happens to personal data collected through Alexa.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
2 min read

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant is drawing scrutiny from regulators.

Chris Monroe/CNET

A European privacy watchdog is scrutinizing Amazon over its handling of personal data collected through Alexa voice recordings, according to Reuters. The privacy regulator for the country of Luxembourg, where Amazon has its European headquarters, asked the US tech giant to provide information about Alexa, though it didn't specify why.

Last year Europe introduced strict new privacy legislation -- the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR -- and any companies handling data of European citizens must ensure they abide by the new rules to avoid facing massive fines. Because Luxembourg plays host to Amazon's European HQ, it's up to the country's national data protection regulation to ensure that the company is complying with the GDPR.

Amazon's Alexa voice assistant is embedded in a variety of products, including phones, speakers and even clocks, to let you control almost your whole smart home with your voice. But critics have raised concern that voice assistants from companies including Amazon, Apple and Google  can be triggered accidentally and listen into and record private conversations.

Recent revelations have also shown that these companies rely on human workers to manually review recorded snippets for quality control or to help develop new features. These practices have raised major privacy concerns for consumers, and could also risk the companies falling foul of privacy laws.

Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokeswoman told Reuters that the company lets customers opt out of having their voice recordings added to a pool for manual review. This is a new option, which Amazon introduced last week. Apple and Google made similar changes around the same time.

"We take customer privacy seriously and continuously review our practices and procedures," an Amazon spokesperson said when introducing the new opt-out feature. "We'll also be updating information we provide to customers to make our practices more clear."