Amazon's Alexa records and shares private conversation

Amazon's Alexa records and shares private conversation

Lindsey Duncan
May 25, 2018

The conversation between her and her husband was sent to one of her husband's employees, and when that employee received the recording, he called to let them know. The employee then sent the husband audio files of the chats that the Echo had sent, and the family promptly pulled the plug on all of them.

The joke came to an abrupt end when they discovered a conversation was indeed recorded by Alexa - and then sent to an apparently random person in their contact list.

"Alexa then asked out loud, '(contact name), right?' Alexa then interpreted background conversation as "right", an Amazon spokesperson said. Even Amazon agrees that this was an unlikely chain of events, but says it is working on ways to make it even more unlikely to repeat.

"I felt invaded", a family member called Danielle said.

These devices are typically placed in living rooms and kitchens, and are capable of listening to private conversations, although Amazon claims that they are only supposed to be activated when the "Alexa" command word is triggered.

The background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list.

Amazon devices recording, sending your conversations?

But those who do not want Alexa to listen to them at all can press and hold the microphone button on top of their Echo speaker until it turns red.

This would seem to confirm that Alexa is recording at least snippets of conversation without using the wake word, but Amazon is insisting this isn't the case. Immediately I said, "I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it"', she added. Just a couple of months ago, users began reporting odd sound emitting from their devices, describing them as "creepy laughs" coming from the smart speakers.

However, Amazon maintains this event was a malfunction, and not proof that Alexa is always "listening". He also didn't explain why it could have happened. However, Danielle and her husband were not given any specifics on what caused the Alexa issue in the first place.

Amazon told KIRO 7 that what happened was "an extremely rare occurrence", and that they are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.

"They said 'our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we're sorry, '" Danielle told KIRO.

Command "Alexa, send a message to (enter contact name)" and Amazon's smart assistant will follow your instructions. Amazon is yet to clarify this, but many users of the home speakers will ask whether there are cases where Alexa could be recording without their explicit permission.

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