• Earlier reports revealed that digital assistants could eavesdrop on people's conversations
  • The reports make it easy to understand why people will be wary about trusting digital assistants
  • A former Amazon exec says he doesn't want Alexa eavesdropping so he turns his speakers off at times

It's easy to understand why some consumers are worried about using digital assistants inside their home. Many reports in the past have, in one way or another, revealed how these supposedly helpful technological advances could actually eavesdrop on a private conversation and, worse, let others listen in.

Apple, known for touting privacy as an offering, was once embroiled in an issue where Siri, its digital assistant, recorded conversations and made it available for contractors to “review.” A former employee revealed that contractors were actually made to listen to 1,000 recordings per day for the purpose of “evaluation.”

The bigger issue with contractors listening to audio recordings was that the audio was recorded without user consent. Consumers didn't know what they were saying was being recorded and sent to Apple's contractors for review.

Microsoft was also involved in a similar incident. The tech giant once admitted that its then-existing digital assistant, Cortana, as well as its Skype Translator service, makes audio snippets available for workers to listen to and review to “improve our speech services, such as recognition and translation,” the company said in a policy.

While the company explained that it takes necessary steps to ensure that the person behind every voice remains unidentifiable, a contractor who exposed the practice revealed that “very sensitive conversations” were included in the snippets.

Amazon's Alexa isn't exempted from the issue. Amazon, which continues to take the lead in the smart speaker category has, according to research and estimates, at least one Alexa-powered speaker in about 69.7% of smart speaker-owning homes in the U.S.

Now why is this a cause for concern? It's because Alexa has also been reported to have listened in on people's conversations. Just like other digital assistants, Alexa has reportedly eavesdropped on not just one person, but many.

Amazon's own execs know this to be true, and one of them explained that if he wants to have some privacy, he simply turns his Alexa-powered speaker off, Yahoo News reported.

Former Amazon Web Services manager Robert Frederick, speaking with BBC's Panorama, explained that data is very important. "Whoever owns, collects the data, if you have access to it, and rights to data, then you are king. It's all about the data. Everything,” he said.

And so, in order to prevent Alexa from eavesdropping on him and acquiring data, he said he simply turns his Alexa-powered speaker off.

Amazon Echo smart-speakers
An Amazon Echo device is displayed at the Las Vegas Convention Center. David Becker/Getty Images