Alexa records USA couple's private conversation then sends it to random contact

Todd Singleton
May 25, 2018

But the implications of devices that are constantly listening to - and often recording - the conversations around them are just beginning to be realised. Alexa then tried to confirm the name of the person receiving the message, and turned background conversation into an approval to send it.

But she said she'd much rather get a refund and says she's dumped all her Alexa devices from her home. The couple who did not wish to reveal their full identity spoke to KIRO7 on a first name basis.

The Echo devices were not being hacked, but good on the employee to call them to let them know he had received audio files of their conversations.

At 6pm ET on Thursday, an Amazon spokesperson provided an updated statement with an explanation for why they believe Alexa forwarded the conversation.

'A husband and wife in the privacy of their home have conversations that they're not expecting to be sent to someone [in] their address book, ' she told KIRO. According to Amazon, Alexa had asked for a confirmation of the contact name to which the recording was sent, and it interpreted the background sound as a yes.

Although Amazon may claim the string of events was "unlikely", what was likely is that an always-on technology that constantly listens to everything in a room could intentionally or accidentally record a conversation without the permission of the user to begin with. The episode underscored how Alexa can misinterpret conversation as a wake-up call and command.

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"He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!" The company sent engineers to investigate, who verified that Alexa had indeed recorded the family's conversation.

Ryan Calo, an associate law professor at the University of Washington, said the incident was alarming since a private conversation had been recorded and sent to a third party.

According to market research group eMarketer, more than 60 million U.S. consumers will use a smart speaker at least once a month this year, with more than 40 million of them using Amazon's devices. "I'm never plugging that device in again", she said.

Alexa is a virtual assistant built into Amazon Echo smart speakers. The odd behaviour was the result of a misheard command for which Amazon adjusted Alexa to not laugh unsettlingly at random.

Amazon also said it was changing the VA's response from simply laughter to, "Sure, I can laugh", only then would it be followed by laughter. But if you want to make sure this doesn't happen to you, then simply avoid sending any kind of messages over Alexa.

Other reports by Free-Prsite

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