One of the cool things about the year 2018 is that you can put a cool speaker in your house which listens to your slurred speech and transmits it back to a cloud server for processing entirely because you can’t be bothered picking your Spotify playlists with your own finger. Sometimes, this total abnegation of your responsibility to protect your data doesn’t result in the desired outcome.
An Amazon Echo user in Portland, Oregon claims that their smart speaker did exactly what you would hope would never do: it recorded a conversation between her and her husband, and then forwarded said conversation to a random phone contact. Not something you would want from any of your devices, really. Unless you’re some kinda freak.
Speaking to a local radio station, Danielle says that the family was alerted to the problem when the random contact in question – one of her husband’s employees – rang to inform her that her Alexa device had been “hacked”.
She’s not bullshitting – Amazon has confirmed in a statement that this actually did happen. Why? Well, it looks like it was a series of extremely unfortunate events solidified by some awkward voice recognition stuff-ups. Here’s the chronology, from Amazon’s statement:
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.
As anyone who has used an Alexa device or something similar will tell you, the device lights up when it’s listening, and – as the above exchange indicates – will prompt for clarification when required. So clearly the conversationalists in question didn’t notice or hear the Alexa pulling in their conversation and sending it to a contact.
Danielle says that when she called Amazon about this, the engineer she spoke to was “extremely apologetic”.
“He apologised like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and said, ‘We really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix’,” she said.
I mean, it’s just one of the things I think you accept when you accept a weird little robot who listens to everything you say into your home. That, and the device cackling like a witch. Welcome to the future, folks!