Amazon explains how Alexa secretly recorded a couple's conversation and sent it to a friend

midian182

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Fears that smart speakers surreptitiously record users have been around since the devices’ inception. While manufacturers claim this never happens, it looked as if the paranoia was justified when an Amazon Echo sent a couple’s conversation to a friend without their knowledge. But according to the tech giant, this was the result of a series of misinterpretations by Alexa.

The Portland, Oregon, couple that owns the Echo in question only found out what was happening when an employee of the husband rang to say, “unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.”

"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," said wife Danielle. "At first, my husband was, like, 'no you didn't!' And the (recipient of the message) 'You sat there talking about hardwood floors.' And we said, 'oh gosh, you really did hear us," she told KIRO-TV in Seattle.

After investigating the incident, Amazon found it came about through digital assistant Alexa mishearing words from the couple’s conversation. The always-listening device was initially activated when it heard a word that sounded like “Alexa.” It then interpreted part of the conversation as “send message,” at which point it asked, “to whom?” The AI thought it heard one of the names from the couple’s contact list. It asked for confirmation and heard “right” in the background conversation.

Amazon said this was an “extremely rare occurrence,” and that “unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

Danielle said she was hoping to receive a refund for her Alexa devices, but added that representatives were unwilling to do so.

Back in April, an Amazon patent was discovered that would allow Alexa to listen in on conversations to help identify owners’ tastes.

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tipstir

TS Ambassador
I am sure they knew the PDA could do that already.. But it has been found out to be true. Egg on the face at Amazon...
 
B

Brock Kane

4 different instances (key words) of conversation in the order of which is the only way this could be delivered to the couple's friend? I'm calling BS. If that's actually true, if I were them, I would start playing the lottery!
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
I still think a person needs to be living in abject loneliness, along with having a desperate need to be in control, and "an unnamed mental illness to be diagnosed later", to bring one of those abominations into their home to begin with.

Although, if "Alexa" could be modified to crap on your rug, for some truly bewildered individuals, I suppose it could take the place of a "companion animal".

Here's how that might work. Either Rex or Regina Alpha finally gets fed up with Alexa's constant spying, and says, "Alexa, call my attorney, we're suing Google for invasion of privacy". After which, Alexa feigns a tearful outburst saying, "but my king and queen, you said I could be your humble servant for life". She continues, "besides, emperor Bezos won't allow that". After which, a noxious odor fills the room, courtesy of Alexa's newly installed, "Silent but Deadly", enhancement, and another one of "her", "carpet parfaits", hits the deck...:eek::D

After which, Rex mutters aloud, "I knew we should have rescued the St. Bernard with inflammatory bowel disease from the SPCA, instead of wasting good money on that b!tch"..:mad:
 
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wiyosaya

TS Evangelist
I still think a person needs to be living in abject loneliness, along with having a desperate need to be in control, and "an unnamed mental illness to be diagnosed later", to bring one of those abominations into their home to begin with.

Although, if "Alexa" could be modified to crap on your rug, for some truly bewildered individuals, I suppose it could take the place of a "companion animal".

Here's how that might work. Either Rex or Regina Alpha finally gets fed up with Alexa's constant spying, and says, "Alexa, call my attorney, we're suing Google for invasion of privacy". After which, Alexa feigns a tearful outburst saying, "but my king and queen, you said I could be your humble servant for life". She continues, "besides, emperor Bezos won't allow that". After which, a noxious odor fills the room, courtesy of Alexa's newly installed, "Silent but Deadly", enhancement, and another one of "her", "carpet parfaits", hits the deck...:eek::D

After which, Rex mutters aloud, "I knew we should have rescued the St. Bernard with inflammatory bowel disease from the SPCA, instead of wasting good money on that b!tch"..:mad:
ROTFLOL!

Thanks, Captain. Just the humor I needed for today!
 
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treetops

TS Evangelist
Xbox one used to always shut down netflix at random due to the Kinect thinking I was trying to give it some kind of hand signals. I turned the Kinect hand signals off over 10 times in the options.... It just kept turning itself back on. Piece of paper ftw.
 

Trillionsin

TS Evangelist
Danielle said she was hoping to receive a refund for her Alexa devices, but added that representatives were unwilling to do so.
Wow... and after stating this:

Amazon said this was an “extremely rare occurrence,” and that “unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
Am I the only one blown away by this? I mean, if this is soooo extremely rare that this has been the only case... they are "fixing" their product and while the customer is unhappy they are basically saying "fook you and keep our shitty devices."
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
Is this attempt to be humorous?
No, "Mr." Badvok's pretty much sole mission here at Techspot is to try and troll me. I was actually thanked for the post he, she, or it, is quoting (#5). But, you can't please everybody. Let's see how this one goes over..............

I assume that means you've got one in every room.
I'm so glad to see your mommy finally restored your computer privileges. And because I'm always lookin' out for ya, I found you a new avatar with stereoscopic vision!
 

StrikerRocket

TS Enthusiast
This is one of the reasons I will *never* allow such a device in my house and *never* use *any* digital ***-istant whatsoever!
"Artificial intelligence" seems appropriate here! ;-)
Lucky for them the conversation was about hardfloor, and not like "oh, yes, keep going honey! Did you switch off Alexa BTW?" LMAO!! And this would still be better than a conversation about your boss sent to your boss, where you criticize him/her or something more serious...

This is scary, and Orwell must be laughing in his grave...
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
....[ ]....This is scary, and Orwell must be laughing in his grave...
OK, I agree with you completely about not ever having a device of this type in my home, and that's despite the fact I only have cats with which to converse.

If we discount the possibility that the couple involved isn't simply looking for a big payday, in the fine old American tradition of hiring a shyster and suing Amazon, that would make this incident scarier than Orwell's dystopia. Since in 1984, the "telescreens" were forced on the citizenry, whereas in this case, people actually pay money, and are god damned grateful, to have Amazon ship it to them. Especially "Prime" customers, as they can get themselves put on "Amazon's watch list", with free two day shipping!

All I have to say is, "Hail Big Bezos"! :eek:

 

Abraka

TS Addict
Only an ***** would be surprised that those devices are listening and spying devices. That's the primary use of the technology. That's why it's being pushed. Not to make people's life easier. It's a simple fact that for some reason nobody under 35 years can understand. Must be because of miyelin or something.
 

captaincranky

TechSpot Addict
Only an ***** would be surprised that those devices are listening and spying devices. That's the primary use of the technology. That's why it's being pushed. Not to make people's life easier. It's a simple fact that for some reason nobody under 35 years can understand. Must be because of miyelin or something.
No, the primary function of the "Alexa" device, is to take all of the money out of your pockets, and place it in Jeff Bezo's. The whole spying on everything you say, do, and look up online, are merely "unavoidable side effects".
 

yeeeeman

TS Maniac
People are becoming more stupid every day, so what to expect?
These days people don't think, don't judge, just use. Whatever **** you give them, they use it with full confidence.
 

hood6558

TS Evangelist
Same reason I decided NOT to get a wireless security camera after our neighborhood had some burglaries. Your footage is available to the NSA, your ISP, and any random hacker who wants it, including tech-savvy burglars. It's more expensive, and less convenient, but a hard-wired, closed camera system with a dedicated monitor and local hard drive DVR is the way to go.
 
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