A couple in Portland recently received a pretty disturbing call from the husband’s employee: “Unplug your Alexa device right now. You’re being hacked.”
The employee went on to explain that he had received audio files containing a conversation between the couple. Turns out, the couple’s Amazon Echo had shared a recording of a private conversation without the couple’s permission—and it wasn’t because of hackers. It was because of Amazon.
According to reports, here’s how this incident occurred:
“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.”
In a statement to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed this incident took place, but that it was an unusual series of misunderstandings that involved Alexa mistaking conversation as commands, rather than Alexa spying on users.
Alexa was also caught in a laughing controversy back in March, after the digital assistant mistook common words and phrases to trigger the “Alexa, laugh” command. Alexa seemed to start laughing without being prompted to wake, and affected users responded by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices.
This latest incident has only increases the pressure on Amazon to avoid these unusual problems. With IoT devices becoming more and more common in households across the world, it is important for market leaders like Amazon and Google to ensure the safety of device users.