EXCLUSIVE: Amazon Alexa Has Removed Coronavirus Skills and Won’t Approve New Ones
Amazon seems to be removing and limiting the addition of Alexa skills connected to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The shift in the company’s policy is part of its strategy to stop incorrect information about the virus from spreading via its voice assistant.
Alexa Limits Skills
A keyword search for coronavirus on the Alexa Skill store on Monday pulled up several voice apps on the topic, with a focus on ways to prevent infection and details about how the virus spreads. A search on Tuesday pulled only the ones in the image above; two voice apps about washing your hands and one about Iberia that must be a misfile. All of the others appear to have been purged from the store, although many ebooks published in the last month about the coronavirus are available for purchase. The Coronavirus protection section at the top sends you directly to the relevant part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
In an email shared with Voicebot, Amazon wrote to Voice First Health’s Dr. Teri Fisher about why the company removed his Coronavirus Doc Alexa Skill:
“In an effort to ensure accuracy and consistency of information shared with our customers, we are limiting skills about COVID-19 at this time. As such, your skill has been removed from the catalog. We appreciate your understanding in this matter.”
The same goes for new Alexa Skills as well. Fisher received a very similar email about the Coronavirus Tips Alexa Skill he had recently submitted. The language was identical except for saying it wouldn’t be published at all. Whether or not the skills were accurate and useful is irrelevant; Amazon is wiping the Alexa Skill store as clean as the remaining skills want your hands to be.
Amazon was slower to clamp down on voice apps mentioning coronavirus than Google. Google pulled coronavirus Google Assistant Actions almost a week ago, removing a host of quizzes and factsheets. The voice assistant landscape as a whole is shifting since our experiment asking different voice assistants about the coronavirus. As the pandemic has become more severe, accurate information is crucial, and Amazon seems to be erring on the side of caution. It’s not clear if anything happened to prompt Amazon’s policy to change or if it had been in the works for a while before implementation. We’ve reached out to Amazon for more details and will update when we know more.