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Amazon confirms Alexa recorded and shared a family’s conversation

An Amazon Echo caught an entire discussion, then sent it to a contact

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A Portland, Oregon couple had a conversation about hardwood floors in their home — which an Amazon Echo recorded and shared with a random person on their contact list. The couple discovered the recording had been shared, they told CBS News affiliate KIRO-TV, when an employee of her husband's called to say he'd been sent the recording.

Amazon says that the Echo recorded the conversation and sent it because it thought it had been told to do so.

"Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like "Alexa," said Amazon in a statement sent to GearBrain by email. "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"."

The employee, based in Seattle, proved that he had audio files of the conversation by telling the couple they had talked about hardwood floors. The couple then unplugged the devices, and contacted Amazon, speaking with an Alexa engineer, who admitted the recording had happened — and that the files had been randomly shared with a contact.

Earlier this year, cybersecurity researchers had built a way for Alexa devices to listen in on owners, and send those transcripts back to them by building what looked like an innocent calculator skill. That hack has since been patched by Amazon.

Google Home had their own issue with secret recordings back in 2017. An Android Police reporter caught a Google Home Mini not just recording what was happening in his home, but also sending that information back to Google's servers. Google had to issue a firmware update to the devices.

Amazon Echo devices just slipped to the second rung in the smart speaker space to Google Home in worldwide sales as of May 2018, according to research firm Canalys. Both Amazon and Google are aggressively pushing their voice-enabled systems into people's home, to the way consumers access music, control their lights and even shop for groceries. Devices that eavesdrop when they're not supposed to, however, and send that data to random people could erode consumer confidence in these products.

Amazon says they are looking to figure out how to prevent a situation like this from happening again: "As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely."


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