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Amazon Echo device recorded and sent a family’s conversation without their consent

Though the incident sounds like a serious concern, it may have just been the modern equivalent of a pocket dial.

Published onMay 25, 2018

  • A family has reported that a conversation in their home was recorded and sent to someone in their contact list by an Amazon Echo smart speaker.
  • The device reportedly misheard parts of a private conversation as instructions to send a message.
  • While no doubt a strange experience for those involved, it seems like not much more than the modern equivalent of a pocket dial.

In what must be a nightmare scenario for anyone who owns an Alexa powered smart device, a family has reported (via Kiro7) that an Echo device in their home recorded a private conversation and sent it to a person in their contact list.

The family only discovered that the recording had been sent when the recipient notified them, worrying that the family had been hacked; an understandable conclusion, given the circumstances. However, it appears the smart speaker had just made a series of mistakes.

Amazon added the ability for Alexa powered smart speaker users to send voice calls and messages to each other last year. It also recently allowed Android users to send SMS messages to those in their contact list. However, the device has to complete a number of steps before sending a voice message.

In the above case, Amazon says that Alexa repeatedly misheard parts of the conversation as instructions in this chain.

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In a statement to The Washington Post, Amazon explained that the Echo device woke up after hearing something that it thought sounded like “Alexa.” After waking up, the device heard what it thought was a request to send a message and then the name of a person in the families contact list. Amazon says that the Echo device would have to have said “To whom” out loud, although the family says they did not hear this.

While this was no doubt a pretty creepy experience for the family involved, and definitely something that Amazon should try to stop happening again, it also seems like the modern equivalent of a pocket dial. Unless it turns out to be a widespread issue, it is probably not something that is worth throwing all your smart speakers out for.

According to the original article, while Amazon has offered to “de-provision” Alexa communications on the family’s devices, they are instead hoping for a refund.

Next up: Amazon Echo commands – our guide to everything Alexa can do

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