Amazon reportedly has developed a new, still unannounced feature for its Alexa virtual assistant that would help Alexa recognize and distinguish between the voices of individual users, according to a Time exclusive report.
The new capability could allow Amazon to create voice prints that would be used to help verify the identities of specific users of devices like Amazon's Echo. Time reports that a primary Amazon account holder "would be able to require a specific voice print to access certain commands. A user would, for example, be able to set it so that a parent's voice would be required to make a credit card purchase or turn on the coffee machine through the Echo."
Amazon has been working on the voice print scheme since at least the summer of 2015, according to Time, which quotes unnamed sources saying all that needs to be done is to integrate the technology into Alexa-driven products like the Echo. Still, there is a lack of clarity about when, or even if, the new feature will see the light of day.
Maybe Amazon is hesitating, but it sure seems like a good time in Alexa's evolution to introduce this kind of capability. The Echo saw huge holiday sales, and Amazon has recently started to enable the virtual assistant capability in more devices, such as Amazon Fire tablets. It's even coming to non-Amazon devices like Motorola smartphones and LG refrigerators.
Enabling voice print verification could help Amazon account holders manage who has what level of access to their Alexa-based devices, and its seems essential to avoiding unwanted or accidental accessing of Alexa devices. If you don't think that will happen, check with the little girl who "unknowingly" ordered four pounds of cookies.
The Time story speculates that Amazon might be hesitating on acting on this technology development over privacy issues. It noted the recent case in which Amazon said it would not provide voice recordings from a customer's Echo device to law enforcement officials investigating a murder in Arkansas, claiming that any such recordings should be protected under the First Amendment.
Still, the concept of a voice print is not unlike the separate customer profiles users already can maintain and move between using passwords on devices like the Amazon Fire tablet. Those profiles allow the same sort of access management that voice print verification would enable on Alexa devices, and would seem to add an innovative layer of security to these increasingly common devices.
With many new technology ideas, Amazon has moved very quickly to introduce them — almost too quickly at times. Though the Dash button re-ordering program has gathered steam, its viability was questioned from the start. With voice print verification, Amazon appears to be on to an idea that Alexa and its market are ready to use — if Amazon would only let us have it.