Amazon Echo records family private conversation and sends it to random contact

- Adrian Ungureanu

While in Europe, people are struggling with the new GDPR legislation and they worry that data collection companies could use contacts, data about preferences and online activities  to provide ads, in the US thing are worse regarding privacy.

An Amazon Echo smart speaker has recorded a private family conversation, then sent the conversation to a person in the family’s contact list. The family’s luck was that the person who received the conversation was someone close who immediately alerted them about the incident.

They deactivated all the devices in the house using the Alexa virtual assistant and contacted Amazon. After analyzing the situation, the Amazon returned with explanations and confirmed what had happened.

“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!” said a member of the family.

The explanation given by Amazon later was that Echo heard a word that sounded like “Alexa”. “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 family has asked to return the products and get all their money back, but Amazon only offered to ‘de-provision’ their Alexa communications.