Amazon Echo secretly recorded a family’s conversation and sent it to a random person on their contact list

Jeff Bezos

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Jeff Bezos

The Echo device in your room could be secretly recording your conversation — and in some cases, could send it to a random person, according to a report from local Seattle TV network KIRO7.

That’s what happened to a family in Portland, who had their conversation at home recorded and sent to a random person on their contact list.

The report said the family was alerted by a colleague in Seattle who had received the audio file. After confirming the audio file was indeed a recording of their private conversation, the family went on to unplug all of their Alexa-powered devices, the report said.

When contacted by the family, Amazon said it takes privacy “very seriously,” but downplayed the incident as an “extremely rare occurrence.”

In a statement to CNBC, Amazon blamed Alexa misinterpreting background conversation as a set of commands to send a message to a contact:

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 customers 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 incident raises privacy concerns of voice-assistant devices, like the Echo, as they gain more popularity. These devices are typically placed in living rooms and kitchens, and are capable of listening to private conversations, although Amazon claims that they are only supposed to be activated when the “Alexa” command word is triggered.

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