Tuesday 19 March 2019

Amazon: why Alexa recorded and shared couple's chat at home


An Amazon 'Alexa' Echo Dot device
An Amazon 'Alexa' Echo Dot device

Spencer Sopher

Amazon said a series of miscues picked up by one of its voice-activated Echo speakers during a couple's private conversation resulted in the chat being recorded and sent to one of their acquaintances without their knowledge.

The company responded to a news report that the pair got a phone call recently from the acquaintance, one of the husband's employees, saying "unplug your Alexa devices right now. You're being hacked."

The American couple, from Portland, Oregon, used Amazon's voice-activated devices throughout their home to control heat, lights and security, according to the news report.

Amazon explained the series of events that triggered the episode in an emailed statement. The Echo woke after hearing a word in the couple's conversation that sounded like "Alexa" - the usual trigger to begin recording.

The speaker later heard "send message" during the conversation, at which point the device asked, "to whom?" The pair continued talking in the background and the Echo's system interpreted part of the chat to identify a name in the couple's contact list. Alexa then asked aloud if they wanted to send a message to that contact and heard "right" in more background conversation.

"As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely," the company said.

The report invigorated privacy concerns as internet-connected devices like the Amazon Echo become ubiquitous in homes. Amazon introduced the new line of devices in 2014, which can also stream music and order goods from Amazon via voice command. It has been busy introducing updated versions and adding features to sell more devices than rivals like Alphabet's Google and Apple., which offer their own versions.

Voice-activated assistants like the Echo and Google Home have gone mainstream. More than 60 million US consumers will use a smart speaker at least once a month this year, with over 40 million using Amazon's devices, said eMarketer.


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