An Amazon echo device reportedly recorded a family’s conversation and sent it to a random person in the device’s contact list without their knowledge.
A family in Portland, Oregon, received a shock recently when their phone rang. The caller was an employee of the father of the family who said “Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.” The family’s Amazon Echo home assistant device had reportedly recorded a conversation they had and sent it to a random number in the device’s contact list, KIRO 7 reports.
The mother of the family, only identified as Danielle, said: “My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,’” she clarified that the device never stated that it was recording the family. “We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house. At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.'”
The family called Amazon shortly after the incident in order to understand why the device had begun recording: “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,” said Danielle. “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!”
The Washington Post reached out to Amazon for a comment on the matter, Amazon explained what happened with the device and why it began recording seemingly without the family’s knowledge.
A spokesperson stated: “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 customer’s contact list. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a staff technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, stated that the simplicity of home assistant devices can mask just how complex these machines are saying: “The Amazon Echo, despite being small, is a computer — it’s a computer with microphones, speakers, and it’s connected to the network. These are potential surveillance devices, and we have invited them further and further into our lives without examining how that could go wrong. And I think we are starting to see examples of that.”