- A couple in Portland, Oregon, said the Amazon Alexa-powered devices in their home recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in their contacts 176 miles away in Seattle.
- They said the incident occurred two weeks ago, KIRO-TV reported.
- The woman told KIRO-TV the device had not advised her that it was recording her conversation and sending it.
A couple in Portland, Oregon, said that speakers in their home powered by Amazon’s Alexa smart voice assistant recorded a private conversation and sent the recording to a person in their contacts.
A woman named Danielle said she and her husband got a call two weeks ago from the contact, who told them to immediately unplug all their devices because he’d heard their conversation in his home 176 miles away in Seattle, KIRO-TV reported.
She said he proved it by providing details about the conversation, which was about hardwood floors.
Amazon told the news station: “Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
“I felt invaded,” Danielle told KIRO-TV. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.'”
In a statement to Business Insider, Amazon explained exactly how it happened.
The couple accidentally triggered Alexa’s capability to send voice messages to friends and contacts.
Here’s what happened, according to Amazon:
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa.’ Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
Danielle said that after the person sent the recording, she and her husband unplugged each of the several Alexa devices in their house that they used to control things, such as their security system and lighting.
Danielle said the device had not advised her that it was sending a recording of the conversation.
She said she called Amazon repeatedly until she got in touch with an engineer, who apologised profusely and thanked her for bringing the incident to the company’s attention, but did not explain why the device sent the recording nor whether it was a widespread issue.
Danielle said Amazon offered to “de-provision” the Alexa-powered speakers, which means stripping their functions down to only smart-home features. She said Amazon refused her requests to refund all her devices.
This isn’t the first time in recent memory that Alexa has come under scrutiny for unwanted behaviours. In March, Amazon had to adjust Alexa after finding it could laugh unsettlingly at random.
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