Alexa Now Supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Echo, Sonos, and Fire TV Devices

Alexa now supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Amazon Echo and Amazon Fire TV devices, and compatible Sonos speakers, as reflected in a recently updated Apple support document.


This means Apple Music subscribers who own one of those devices in those countries can now ask Alexa to play songs, artists, playlists, and more from Apple Music. This functionality first launched in the United States in December before expanding to the United Kingdom and Ireland last month.

Read our guide on how to set up Apple Music in the Alexa app, including how to make it the default music service so that you don't have to say "on Apple Music" each time you ask Alexa to play something.

(Thanks, Brad!)


This article, "Alexa Now Supports Apple Music in Australia and New Zealand on Echo, Sonos, and Fire TV Devices" first appeared on MacRumors.com

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‘Alexa Guard’ Security Feature Rolls Out to Amazon Echo Devices in the US

Amazon announced this morning that Alexa Guard is now rolling out to all Echo device owners in the U.S.


The free feature update, which has been trialed by a select few over the last few months, turns Echo speakers into security devices when no-one's home by allowing them to listen for key sounds indicating danger or intrusion.

Users need to say "Alexa, I'm leaving" to set Alexa Guard to Away mode, after which the device will listen for sounds like breaking glass and the sound of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

According to TechCrunch, Amazon has worked with licensed contractors to break hundreds of different glass windows with different instruments in order to create a wide range of different sounds for Alexa to listen for.

Upon detecting an ominous sound, Alexa sends the owner Smart Alerts via phone notifications. Users can also play the detected sound from the Alexa mobile app or Drop In on their Echo device remotely to find out what's happening.

Alexa can arm a Ring or ADT security system, with the user able to choose to forward Smart Alerts they receive to Ring or ADT. Users with Away Lighting can also use the alert to turn on lights so as to make it look like they're actually home.

For more details about Alexa Guard, check out Amazon's FAQ.


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Employees Who Listen to Amazon Alexa Requests Have Access to Customers’ Home Addresses

Earlier this month, Bloomberg shared details on the thousands of employees that Amazon employs around the world to listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners when the Alexa wake word is spoken, with the purpose of improving the service.

There was some concerning information in the report, including employee access to private recordings, recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and an employee tendency to share private recordings in group work chat environments. As it turns out, there's something Alexa owners should be even more worried about -- some of these employees have access to the home addresses of Amazon customers.


In a new report on the team Amazon employs to listen to Amazon Echo recordings, Bloomberg says that employees have access to location data and can "easily find a customer's home address" by typing geographic coordinates into third-party mapping software. The new information was shared by five anonymous Amazon employees who spoke to Bloomberg.
Team members with access to Alexa users' geographic coordinates can easily type them into third-party mapping software and find home residences, according to the employees, who signed nondisclosure agreements barring them from speaking publicly about the program.

While there's no indication Amazon employees with access to the data have attempted to track down individual users, two members of the Alexa team expressed concern to Bloomberg that Amazon was granting unnecessarily broad access to customer data that would make it easy to identify a device's owner.
Bloomberg saw a demonstration where an Amazon team member pasted a user's coordinates (stored on Amazon's servers as latitude and longitude) into Google Maps, finding the address for the user linked to the recording in less than a minute. It's not clear how many people are able to access that system, though two Amazon employees said that until recently, the "vast majority" of workers in the Alexa Data Services group could use the software.

Certain employees on the data team listening to recordings have access to home and work addresses for customers along with phone numbers and access to their contacts if the person has chosen to share contacts with Alexa, all for the purpose of improving requests.

That employees can access specific location data for an individual customer is concerning because after the original report, Amazon had this to say: "Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow."

In a new statement provided to Bloomberg, Amazon said something different, calling access to internal tools "highly controlled."
In a new statement responding to this story, Amazon said "access to internal tools is highly controlled, and is only granted to a limited number of employees who require these tools to train and improve the service by processing an extremely small sample of interactions. Our policies strictly prohibit employee access to or use of customer data for any other reason, and we have a zero tolerance policy for abuse of our systems. We regularly audit employee access to internal tools and limit access whenever and wherever possible."
Amazon, says Bloomberg, appears to be restricting the level of access that employees have to sensitive customer data, and after the original story, some of the workers who transcribe and annotate audio recordings no longer had access to software tools they had previously used.

Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings.


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Alexa Support for Apple Music Expands to Sonos Speakers

Amazon Echo devices have been able to use Alexa-based voice commands to control Apple Music since December, but the feature has been limited to Amazon's own devices until today.

Sonos One and Sonos Beam owners in the United States, United Kingdom, and Ireland are now also able to use Alexa to control Apple Music after adding the Apple Music skill to the Alexa app.


To get Alexa controls for Apple Music on Sonos, users will need to update to the newest version of the Sonos app, enable the Apple Music skill in the separate Amazon Alexa app, and link an Apple Music account.

From there, Sonos owners will be able to use commands like "Play My Chill Mix on Apple Music," or "Play Beats 1 Radio on Apple Music."

It's not yet clear if other Alexa-enabled devices will also be gaining support for Apple Music controls in the future, but right now, the feature is available on all Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices along with the Sonos One and Sonos Beam.


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Thousands of Amazon Employees Listen to Alexa Requests for Improvement Purposes

Amazon has thousands of employees around the world that listen to voice recordings captured in the homes of Amazon Echo owners, reports Bloomberg.

Recordings are listened to, transcribed, annotated, and added back into the software as part of Amazon's effort to help Alexa better respond to voice commands. Amazon has facilities for Alexa improvement in places that range from Boston to Costa Rica, India, and Romania.


Seven people familiar with Amazon's review process spoke to Bloomberg and revealed some insider details on the program that may be concerning to Echo users.

While much of the work has been described as "mundane," employees have sometimes come across more private recordings, such as a woman singing off key in the shower or a child screaming for help. Amazon employees have internal chat rooms where they share files when help is needed parsing a word or, more concerning, when an "amusing recording" is found.

Two workers told Bloomberg that they've heard recordings that are upsetting or potentially criminal, and while Amazon claims to have procedures in place for such occurrences, some employees have been told it's not the company's job to interfere.
Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress. Amazon says it has procedures in place for workers to follow when they hear something distressing, but two Romania-based employees said that, after requesting guidance for such cases, they were told it wasn't Amazon's job to interfere.
Alexa users have the option to disable the use of their voice recordings for improvements to the service, but some may not know that these options exist. Amazon also does not make it clear that actual people are listening to the recordings.

According to Bloomberg, recordings sent to employees who work on Alexa don't include a user's full name or address, but an account number, first name, and the device's serial number are associated with the recording.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said that an "extremely small" number of Alexa voice recordings are annotated and that there are measures in place to protect user identity.
We take the security and privacy of our customers' personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order [to] improve the customer experience. For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.

We have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow. All information is treated with high confidentiality and we use multi-factor authentication to restrict access, service encryption and audits of our control environment to protect it.
It is standard practice to use some recordings for product improvement. Apple has employees who listen to Siri queries to make sure the interpretation of a request lines up with what the person said. Recordings are stripped of identifiable information, however, and stored for six months with a random identifier.

Google too has employees who are able to access audio snippets from Google Assistant for the purpose of improving the product, but Google, like Apple, removes personally identifiable information and also distorts audio.

Amazon does not appear to be removing all personally identifiable information, and while the Echo is meant to collect audio only when a wake word is spoken, the employees who spoke to Bloomberg said they often hear audio files that appear to have started recording with no wake word at all.

Alexa users concerned with the data that's being collected and used by Amazon should make sure to enable all privacy features and uncheck the option for letting Amazon save Echo recordings. Additional details on how Amazon uses the voice recordings it collects can be found in the original Bloomberg article.


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Apple Music Now Available on Amazon’s Alexa Devices in the UK and Ireland

Amazon Echo and Fire TV devices in the UK and Ireland are now compatible with Apple Music, reports Pocket-lint.

In the United States, Amazon Echo models have supported Apple Music since December of last year, allowing Echo speakers to integrate directly with Apple's music service, but the functionality was not made available in other countries.


Amazon Echo owners in the UK can now install the Apple Music integration using the Amazon Alexa app for iPhone or iPad and then use Alexa commands to play songs, albums, and more from the Apple Music service.

As of mid-March, Apple Music is also available as an option on the Amazon Fire TV.


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Siri on HomePod Asked 800 Questions and Answered 74% Correctly vs. Just 52% Earlier This Year

Apple analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures recently tested the accuracy of digital assistants on four smart speakers by asking Alexa, Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana a series of 800 questions each on the Amazon Echo, HomePod, Google Home Mini, and Harmon Kardon Invoke respectively.


The results indicate that Siri on the HomePod correctly answered 74.6 percent of the questions, a dramatic improvement over the speaker's 52.3 percent success rate when Loup Ventures asked it a similar 782 questions in December 2017.


Siri on the HomePod remained less accurate than Google Assistant on the Google Home, which correctly answered 87.9 percent of questions in the test. Meanwhile, Alexa on the Echo and Cortana on the Invoke trailed Siri on the HomePod, correctly answering 72.5 percent and 63.4 percent of questions in the test.


Munster attributed the HomePod's improved accuracy to "the enabling of more domains in the past year," as a series of software updates in recent months have enabled the speaker to make and receive phone calls, schedule calendar events, set multiple timers, search for songs by lyrics, and more.

Methodology


Loup Ventures says it asked each smart speaker the same 800 questions, and they were graded on two metrics: whether the query was understood and whether a correct response was provided. The question set was designed to "comprehensively test a smart speaker's ability and utility" based on five categories:
  • Local – Where is the nearest coffee shop?
  • Commerce – Can you order me more paper towels?
  • Navigation – How do I get to uptown on the bus?
  • Information – Who do the Twins play tonight?
  • Command – Remind me to call Steve at 2 p.m. today.
The venture capital firm said it continues to modify its question set in order to reflect the changing abilities of digital assistants. "As voice computing becomes more versatile and assistants become more capable, we will continue to alter our test so that it remains exhaustive," said Munster.

Results by Category



Google Assistant on the Google Home correctly answered the most questions in four out of the five categories in the test, but fell short of Siri on the HomePod in the "command" category, according to Loup Ventures:
HomePod's lead in this category may come from the fact that the HomePod will pass on full SiriKit requests like those regarding messaging, lists, and basically anything other than music to the iOS device paired to the speaker. Siri on iPhone has deep integration with email, calendar, messaging, and other areas of focus in our Command category. Our question set also contains a fair amount of music-related queries, which HomePod specializes in.
Loup Ventures found the HomePod and Google Home stood "head and shoulders above the others" in both the "local" and "navigation" categories due to propriety data in Apple Maps and Google Maps respectively. "This data is a potential long-term comparative advantage for Siri and Google Assistant," said Munster.

What's Next


Siri's shortcomings were brutally exposed on the HomePod, which relies almost entirely on the assistant to function, so anecdotal evidence of improvement is a good sign, but Apple still has significant ground to make up against its competitors.

Loup Ventures acknowledged that Siri remains limited on the HomePod compared to its expanded capabilities on the iPhone. "This is partially due to Apple's apparent positioning of HomePod not as a 'smart speaker,' but as a home speaker you can interact with using your voice with Siri onboard," said Munster.

The venture capital firm said it will continue to compare the HomePod to other smart speakers over time amid rapid advancements in artificial intelligence.

Related Roundup: HomePod
Buyer's Guide: HomePod (Neutral)

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Amazon Confirms More Alexa-Enabled Speakers Will Eventually Support Apple Music

Amazon has confirmed that Apple Music will eventually be supported on additional Alexa-enabled speakers, according to a tweet from Mashable's Raymond Wong spotted by AppleInsider. Amazon didn't provide a timeframe for the rollout.


A variety of third-party Alexa speakers and devices are available from brands such as Sonos, JBL, Ultimate Ears, and First Alert.


Apple Music went live on Amazon's line of Echo speakers last Friday in the United States. This allows users to link Apple Music with their Amazon account in the Alexa app for iOS and use Alexa voice commands to control playback of Apple Music songs and playlists and Beats 1 radio on Echo speakers.

To access this feature, simply use a voice command such as "Alexa, play music by Ed Sheeran on Apple Music" or "Alexa, play today's hits on Apple Music." Apple Music can also be set as the default music service in the Alexa app so that "Apple Music" does not need to be specified each time.

Apple and Amazon announced this new partnership in late November, with Amazon saying it is "committed to offering great music providers to our customers," and referring to Apple Music as "one of the most popular music services."


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Apple Music Now Playable on Amazon Echo Speakers via Alexa in United States

Apple Music can now be streamed on Amazon Echo speakers via Alexa in the United States, a few days ahead of schedule.


As spotted by 9to5Mac, it is now possible to link Apple Music with your Amazon account in the Alexa app for iPhone and use Alexa voice commands to control playback of songs, playlists, and Beats 1 on Apple Music on Amazon Echo speakers.

To access this feature, simply use a voice command such as "Alexa, play music by Ed Sheeran on Apple Music" or "Alexa, play today's hits on Apple Music." Apple Music can also be set as the default music service in the Alexa app, so that "Apple Music" does not need to be specified each time.


Other streaming music services supported on Echo speakers include Spotify, Deezer, Vevo, SiriusXM, Tidal, and Pandora.

Apple and Amazon announced this new partnership in late November, with Amazon saying it is "committed to offering great music providers to our customers," and referring to Apple Music as "one of the most popular music services."

Apple Music playback on Amazon Echo speakers is currently limited to the United States.


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Amazon Alexa App Gains Redesigned Interface for Controlling Devices and Groups

Amazon is currently rolling out an updated version of its companion app for Alexa-enabled devices that includes a significantly redesigned user interface.

The visual changes are immediately apparent on firing up the app, and center around a new Devices and Groups tab located in the lower right of the screen.


With the new menu selected, the devices are listed in a horizontal strip along the top of the interface, allowing users to control individual smart lights, audio devices, and power outlets all from the same screen.

Below that, Alexa devices are also grouped by room indicated by colored cards, which have on/off buttons and can also be tapped to control and edit included devices.

Elsewhere, users can add new devices by tapping a plus button in the upper right of the interface, while the original clunky sidebar menu remains available via a button in the upper right.

The changes to the app come on the heels of Amazon's recent additions to its ecosystem of Alexa-powered devices, which include new Echo speakers, a subwoofer, amplifiers, a microwave, wall clock, and more.

The Amazon Alexa app is a free download on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. [Direct Link]

Tags: Amazon, Alexa

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