The always-on nature of smart home devices can make some users worry about their privacy, as the device could be listening to every conversation they have. But that fear may never have been as real as it is for a Portland family who recently reported that it had one of its conversations recorded and sent to one of the family's contacts.
According to a report by KIRO 7, the occurrence was only discovered when Danielle got a call from her husband's coworker telling her to unplug all her Alexa devices, as the couple had no idea their conversation was being recorded at the time.
After unplugging all her Alexa devices, Danielle called Amazon to find out why the devices had been recording her conversations. The company confirmed what had happened and apologized for the incident, but didn't provide specifics on how Alexa determined it should record and send the conversation. In response to KIRO 7, Amazon said that this was an "extremely rare occurrence".
The company then provided Ars Technica with a more detailed explanation of how the events went down, based on logs from the device:
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.
This definitely does seem like an extremely uncommon scenario, but the fact that it happened may still leave some users worried. Following the events, Danielle has been trying to receive a full refund for her Alexa devices but says Amazon representatives have been unwilling to do so. It remains to be seen how the company will prevent more situations like this from happening.
This is the second time this week that Amazon has been the target of undesired attention, as the ACLU recently asked the company to stop selling its facial recognition technology to governmental agencies.