The popularity of smart speakers may be increasing day by day, but there are still some people who believe the speakers are secretly recording and uploading every word that comes out of our mouths. You might have heard about a story involving Alexa on an Amazon Echo sending a private conversation to a random person on a contact list today, spooking more than a few people. Amazon has come out with a statement to Engadget explaining why this occurred.
As background, a family in Portland, Oregon had been having a conversation - you know, as many families do while they're at home - about hardwood flooring. One of the family's several Alexa-equipped devices, an Echo, recorded the conversation and sent it to an employee of the husband. The employee then sent the husband audio files of the chats that the Echo had sent, and the family promptly pulled the plug on all of them. Amazon reacted quickly, having engineers go through logs and apologizing profusely. The family is looking for a full refund on all of the Alexa products, but Amazon has merely offered to "de-provision" the family's Alexa communications.
Here's Amazon's statement on what happened:
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 explanation, in spite of the very odd chain of events, does make sense. This obviously isn't a common occurrence, but Amazon is working on making awkward situations like these less likely to occur. At least the conversation was only about hardwood floors and not something more sensitive, right?