Alexa recorded the conversation and sent it to one of their contacts — all without saying a word
Amazon’s Alexa is a pretty useful little device, but is also, evidently, a pretty sneaky little spy. An Oregon couple claims that their Alexa recorded a private conversation they had in their home — and then sent it to one of their contacts.
Danielle, who declined to give her last name, told KIRO TV that what happened was definitely something she had already considered was a possibility when her family started using Alexa. “My husband and I would joke and say ‘I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,’” she says.
It was about two weeks ago that one of her husband’s employees called him and said, “Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.”
Did a chill just go down anyone else’s spine? Ugh.
After unplugging their devices, which the couple had in every room of their home to control the heat, lights, and security system, the employee explained he had received audio recordings of a conversation Danielle and her husband had in the privacy of their home. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors,’” Danielle says. “And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.’”
Danielle says she’s through with Alexa after the incident. “I felt invaded. A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'”
After the upsetting event, she contacted Amazon. “They said ‘our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we’re sorry.’ He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!” she says.
Um, yes. That definitely needs fixing.
After engineers reviewed what happened, Amazon spokesperson Shelby Lichliter sent a statement to KIRO TV:
“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.”
This all sounds vaguely understandable, but the most troubling part is that Alexa never notified the couple that the audio files were going to be sent to one of their contacts, which is something it’s programmed to do.
Which is creepy and unsettling AF.
Danielle is currently trying to get a refund on her Alexa-programmed devices, which, so far, Amazon has been unwilling to do. Bottom line, she feels there should be some expectation of privacy for those using the devices.
“A husband and wife in the privacy of their home have conversations that they’re not expecting to be sent to someone (in) their address book.”