Smarter together: Microsoft and Amazon make Cortana and Alexa play nice
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Smarter together: Microsoft and Amazon make Cortana and Alexa play nice

Amazon and Microsoft have officially set up the friendship between their two voice assistants, Alexa and Cortana, a year after announcing the partnership to expand the reach and abilities of the competing services.

But how does this relationship of rivals work? To talk to one assistant through the other, customers have to say either "Cortana, open Alexa" or "Alexa, open Cortana." From there, people can talk to the other assistant as usual.

Amazon's Alexa is used primarily through it's Echo speakers.

Amazon's Alexa is used primarily through it's Echo speakers.

What they don't get is access to each others' data, according to statements from both companies. Data collected from each assistant will be controlled by their respective companies, and covered by their corresponding privacy policies. In essence, they'll refer users to one another rather than sharing their duties.

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"No raw data will be shared between companies," Microsoft said. "Once you open Cortana, all voice data goes to Microsoft not Amazon, and once you open Alexa, all voice data goes to Amazon and not Microsoft."

Amazon said much the same thing in a separate statement, specifically clarifying that neither company holds on to the others' voice data either.

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"While you're speaking with Cortana, Alexa streams your voice recording directly to Cortana and returns Cortana's response to you. Alexa does not retain your voice interactions with Cortana, and Microsoft processes the information in pursuance with its privacy policy. The same is true when you enable Alexa through Cortana."

Currently the partnership is only available in the United States and in English, with the companies planning to expand in the future.

The partnership links two assistants that have complementary strengths, said analyst Werner Goertz of Gartner. Amazon, through Alexa, has an extensive understanding of the way people shop and use their appliances around the house. It has courted developers to make thousands of skills for its platform.

Microsoft's Cortana has a negligible reach through speakers, but is a part of Windows 10 and has deep integration with Office software used at the workplace.

Microsoft's Cortana lives primarily on Windows 10 PCs and Xbox consoles, but like Alexa she can also live in Android phones.

Microsoft's Cortana lives primarily on Windows 10 PCs and Xbox consoles, but like Alexa she can also live in Android phones.

The integration is available through Echo devices, Windows 10 devices and Microsoft's Harman Kardon Cortana speaker. Someone with an Alexa-enabled speaker, for example, has the option open Cortana and check for new emails or set appointments for their calendar. It's also possible to ask Alexa to flip on your lights or check your order status through your PC.

More integration is coming down the line, Amazon said in a blog post. Certain features such as streaming music, listening to audio books or hearing Alexa's flash briefing "will not be available immediately," the company said.

Washington Post