Update | Amazon Echo device records and sends private conversation without permission
Update 5/25/2018: An Amazon spokesperson has contacted Notebookcheck with the following statement:
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.
A couple living in Portland, Oregon, has suffered a serious breach of their privacy thanks to an Amazon Echo device. In an interview with Seattle-based news station KIRO 7, a woman called Danielle spoke about how she and her husband discovered the disturbing bout of eavesdropping after being contacted by one of her husband’s employees. It seems one of the Echo devices the couple owns recorded a private conversation they were having about hardwood floors and then randomly selected a contact to send the audio file to.
Danielle, who didn’t want to reveal her last name, disconnected all the Echo devices in her home and contacted Amazon. An engineer investigated the issue, confirming that the device in question had actually listened to their conversation and sent out a file without prior command or permission. Although the engineer did offer an apology, the company has not yet provided Danielle with her requested refund for the now unplugged smart speakers.
According to the engineer, the device had “guessed” at what the couple were speaking about but still seems to have acted against its basic programming. Amazon offered this statement when questioned about the issue by KIRO 7:
Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.
A specific Amazon Echo device was not mentioned in the news report text; however, during the video interview Danielle holds up a handful of Echo Dot smart speakers. It seems it’s not only random outbursts of evil laughter that owners of Alexa-enabled devices now have to be wary of.