Amazon Echo records a family's private conversations and sends them to a random contact; Amazon tries to explain the cause

May 25, 2018

Is my “Always Listening” smart speaker listening to my private talks as well? This confusion, or many times a fear, has been lingering around ever since the inception of such smart speakers. If you too have this confusion, we've explained here if you need to worry or not. But in an extremely unlikely event, Amazon Echo has failed in this case. Here's how the story unfolded...


Amazon Echo records private conversations

A family in Portland, Oregon had a nightmarish experience with their Amazon Echo some two weeks ago. The family had been having a conversation about hardwood flooring when their Amazon Echo secretly began recording it. To make the matter worse, Echo even sent the recorded file to a random number in their contact list. The person at the other end, an employee of the husband, reacted sensitively and called them back, asking to “unplug their Alexa devices”, suggesting they’d been hacked.



“My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I’d bet these devices [referring to several Alexa-equipped devices in her home] are listening to what we’re saying,’ ” the woman who identified herself only by her first name, Danielle, told KIRO7, the news station that first reported the story. But to everyone's disbelief, one of her devices actually did and even sent the recordings to a random number in her contact list. The device didn't ask for any permissions to record or send the message, she revealed to KIRO.

As the news broke out, Amazon quickly had engineers check the logs, and apparently discovered what they said was true. The company apologised profusely and released the following statement in explanation.

"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 customer's 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."


The family is looking for a full refund on all of the Alexa products they use. Amazon has, however, reportedly offered to 'de-provision' the family's Alexa communications.


Do I need to worry?

The short answer is 'No' - Kinda. This was an extremely rare occurrence. And if you want full assurance on why I said 'No', spare a few minutes and read this article thoroughly.

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