Update: The Verge received the following response from Amazon regarding the incident:
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.Amazon
It appears that Alexa devices aren’t eerily recording and sending audio. This is simply a wild coincidence of events that led to a mishap.
A family in Portland, Oregon is reporting that their Amazon Alexa device recorded a private conversation and sent it to a family contact in Seattle. The Alexa device was not asked record a message and gave no indication that it was sending the audio files to any individual. All Alexa devices are programmed to provide a verbal warning before any message or recording is sent to another individual.
The family was reportedly having a conversation in their home when a phone rang and business contact from Seattle told them to unplug their Alexa devices immediately. The contact reported that he had received audio files of their conversation and sent the files to the family, who promptly contacted Amazon.
An Alexa engineer investigated the issue and found that the story aligned with the Alexa device’s logs. While the engineer apologized and stated that Amazon would quickly work to resolve the issue, he did not provide specifics on how the issue occurred.
Concerns over virtual assistants, AI, and privacy have been growing. Though both Google and Amazon are dominating in the smart speaker market, Amazon faced some bad publicity regarding its devices, including purchases by children and the use of Alexa recordings by law enforcement to solve a crime. This latest event is another blow and will make many think twice about using a virtual assistant that is always listening.
Do you use a smart speaker in your home? What are your thoughts regarding privacy and audio recording?