Amazon is now allowing people who use Alexa to opt-out of human review of their voice recordings, Bloomberg has reported. This comes after a researcher revealed that some of Google’s Assistant recordings had been listened to by human contractors, and people started to become concerned about what other voice activated assistants do with recorded speech.
A new policy took effect Friday that allows customers, through an option in the settings menu of the Alexa smartphone app, to remove their recordings from a pool that could be analyzed by Amazon employees and contract workers, a spokesman for the Seattle company said. It follows similar moves by Apple, Inc., and Google.
According to Bloomberg, Amazon’s decision to let Alexa users opt-out of human review of their recordings follows criticism that the program violated customers’ privacy. Amazon says the Alexa app will now include a disclaimer in the settings menu that acknowledges that people might review recordings through Alexa. Bloomberg explains how to disable that and opt-out of human review.
The Guardian reported that Apple has suspended its practice of having human contractors listen to users’ Siri recordings to “grade” them. That decision came after a Guardian report that revealed that Apple’s contractors “regularly” hear confidential and private information while carrying out the grading process. The bulk of the confidential information was recorded through accidental triggers of the Siri assistant.
Google posted on The Keyword that it has provided tools for users to manage and control the data in their Google account. You can turn off storing audio data to your Google account completely, or choose to auto-delete data after every 3 months or 18 months.
If there’s one thing that you’d expect the BBC to get right, it would be the news. Ask people in the street about BBC news and you’d expect words like authoritative, impartial, insightful, confident and trustworthy to litter the responses. But going by the number of one star reviews on the BBC’s Alexa flash briefing, it looks (and sounds) like the BBC’s screwed up.
Following the history of reviews, it would appear that the BBC changed the flash briefing to its new format between 19 & 20 May because since then there have been over 150 one star reviews and they have not been kind.
“This used to be excellent, now ruined by dumbing it down to something even Newsround would have found inane.” (Newsround is a children’s news programme)
“Please, let’s return to the grown-up reports without the pointless jingles.”
“Sounds like a children’s version of the news. Silly soundbites and background sound effects.”
“Two annoying ‘hosts’ trying to be cool in the morning is not what I use [the] BBC for”
For those not in the UK, the BBC’s radio stations are aimed at different demographics. Radio 1 typically features the most recent pop music, Radio 2 is more mainstream playing a catalogue going back decades, Radio 3 is classical and jazz music, Radio 4 is news and current affairs, with 5 Live carrying sport and 6 Music catering for indie and special interest music. The serious news journalism comes from Radio 4 through programmes like Today, World at One and PM.
Having had a listen myself, I can hear what the complaints are about. It’s a pair of chatty presenters (Dee & Lee) who present lightweight news and often fail to lead with one of the main news stories of the day. It’s clearly aimed at a younger audience and even talks about topics “trending on social media”. Radio 4, it is not.
What surprises me is that the BBC doesn’t have multiple flash briefings. How hard would it be to have a couple of briefings aimed at different listener demographics? That would keep everyone happy. Instead, they’ve alienated a large chunk of their listening audience.
Pocket Casts is one of the most used apps on my OnePlus 3T, playing podcasts in the car and while out walking. It’s a great app, though I’m still in two minds about the new version 7.0. Why do app developers feel the need to alienate existing users with radical redesigns for no real benefit?
Regardless, one of the coolest features of Pocket Casts is that it keeps playback in sync across multiple devices. Say I listen to Geek News Central in my car and I get about half-way through the latest show. Once I’m home, maybe I want to use my tablet rather than my phone and Pocket Casts knows exactly where I got to in the GNC show. It picks up where I left off without missing a word. Very cool.
And even more cool is that Pocket Casts has an Alexa skill that plugs into the same ecosystem. Once setup on your Echo, it’s “Alexa, open Pocket Casts” and Alexa responds “Welcome to Pocket Casts. Would you like to keep playing Geek News Central?” I say, “Yes” and Alexa plays from wherever I was. Fantastic.
Alternatively, I could decline the initial offer and ask to play a different podcast from my library.
To enable Pocket Casts, and in particular, the cross-platform syncing, there are three things you need to do
- Buy Pocket Casts for your smartphone (both Android and iOS) and setup an account
- Enable the Alexa skill via the Alexa app
- Log in to your Pocket Casts account via the Alexa app to link your account
With the Alexa and Pocket Casts account now linked, you can listen to podcasts on all your devices without having to scrub backwards and forwards to find the right spot. Give it a try.
Amazon might be planning a plethora of Alex-enabled devices over the coming months (according to CNBC and covered by Todd), but Optoma’s voice control into their HD projectors right now. Here’s the Alexa-supported 4K Ultra HD projector, UHD51A.
To get the boring out the way, the UHD51A is a very capable ultra HD DLP (digital light processing) projector with a resolution of 3840×2160, pushing out 2400 lumens, with High Dynamic Range (HDR) compatibility, two HDMI ports and HDCP 2.2 support. A 3000 lumens version is available in the US but not the UK.
The exciting bit is that the UHD51A can be controlled by Alexa with a range voice commands to manage both the projector itself and media playback.Here are some examples.
Alexa, turn on/off
Alexa, change volume to 8 on
Alexa, change input to HDMI 2 on
Alexa, change input to VGA on
For the built-in USB media player
Alexa, play on
Alexa, pause on
Alexa, next on
Alexa, rewind on
To be clear, the projector doesn’t have Alexa built-in and you do need an Echo or Dot to work alongside the projector, but it’s still pretty cool.
If you want to voice control your video, the Optoma UHD51A will set you back about US$1,699 or GB£1,549 on Amazon at time of writing.
Twitch announced that they have launched their Twitch Skill on all Alexa-enabled devices in the United States. This Skill enables people to control Twitch with their voice.
The Twitch Skill lets you play your favorite channels, discover new streamers, get notified when your favorite channels start streaming, and get a reminder when your Twitch Prime subscription is available to use.
You will need to enable the notifications permission for the Twitch Skill in your Alexa app to start receiving notifications. Alexa will notify you anytime a followed channel that you have notifications enabled for starts broadcasting.
Other features include:
- If you’ve linked your Twitch account, say “Alexa, ask Twitch for followed channels” or “Alexa, tell Twitch to show me channels I follow.”
- Discover a new channel for your favorite game or Twitch category by asking Alexa to show you who is playing a specific video game. You can also ask Alexa to suggest an IRL channel.
- You can ask Alexa to show you the Twitch streams that are popular.
- You can ask Alexa to suggest a game for you. Alexa will read you a list of popular games and you can select one to hear the most popular channels for it.
- You can ask Alexa to play a specific Twitch channel.
Are you a movie fan? There’s been a few good ones this year and more on the way right now. If you can’t get to the theater or don’t want to pay the ridiculous prices they now charge then there are plenty of other options, both online and physical.
One popular physical option is Redbox. You’ve likely seen the little kiosiks both inside and outside of stores. They have permeated the United States.
Well, Redbox has now teamed with Amazon Echo – better known as Alexa. You can now enable the skill and begin using it and right away
Ask a question like Alexa open Redbox, Alexa what’s new at Redbox or Alexa find my nearest kiosk.
“The Redbox Alexa skill allows you discover what new release movies and games are available at your local Redbox kiosk. You can ask about specific titles, or what is new this week. You can also learn about the plot, the rating, and who stars in a movie” Amazon claims
You can enable the skill here. It’s free for everyone, but Redbox will cost you.