Amazon Alexa heard and sent private chat

By BBC

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The sending of a private conversation was a rare occurrence, Amazon insisted

(BBC) – A couple in Portland, Oregon joked that their Amazon Alexa might be listening in to their private conversations.

The joke came to an abrupt end when they discovered a conversation was indeed recorded by Alexa – and then sent to an apparently random person in their contact list.

“Unplug your Alexa devices right now!” warned the puzzled recipient, according to CBS affiliate station KIRO7, which first reported the story.

Amazon has an explanation as to what happened. But first, here’s how Danielle – who didn’t want to share her surname with KIRO7’s reporter – described the rather alarming chain of events.

It starts with a phone call from a person working for Danielle’s husband.

“He proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” Danielle says.

“At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the [recipient of the message] said, ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'”

Creepy, eh? Today’s hardwood floors might be tomorrow’s intimate sweet nothings.

So I asked Amazon what could possibly have caused this to happen, and here’s what a spokesperson said:

“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa’.”

Ok…

“Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request.”

Uh-oh…

“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.”

Bit of a stretch, but fine…

“Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right'”

This is getting ridiculous.

“As unlikely as this string of events is…”

You’re telling me!

“…we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

One option immediately springs to mind.

For what it’s worth, Danielle told ABC that there were no audible warnings from Alexa that it (she?) was doing anything.

And to offer one suggestion – sometimes the voice can be pretty quiet, especially if you’re deep in conversation about hardwood floors.

It’s a reminder of the susceptibility of voice-operated devices, particularly ones that want to be as chummy and personal as Alexa.

At least she isn’t laughing at us anymore.

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