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article imageAlexa spies on couple in house

By Tim Sandle     May 26, 2018 in Technology
Portland - A couple in Portland, Oregon have discovered that Amazon's Alexa listened in, recorded and then posted a recording of a private conversation. Amazon has been accused of flouting data privacy.
Ironically, the couple had joked that their Amazon Alexa could be listening in to their private conversations. This shortly became a reality when it was found that a conversation the couple had in their own home was recorded by Alexa. This came to light when Amazon's artificial intelligence sent the recording to someone on the couple's contact list, seemingly at random.
The recipient was one of the employees of the husband, based in Seattle (some 176 miles away from the couple's home). After warning the couple, the recipient then decided to alert the media. The recipient of the recording first reported the issue to CBS affiliate station KIRO7, warning people "Unplug your Alexa devices right now!"
One of the couple, a woman called Danielle, said of the incident: "I felt invaded...A total privacy invasion." The couple proceeded to unplug all Alexa equipped devices in their home.
Fortunately for the couple, the conversation was not the most intimate or controversial - the conversation was over the merits of hardwood flooring. Nonetheless, it represents a serious breach of data privacy.
When Amazon was contacted the initial response was, as reported on Business Insider: "Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future."
A more detailed response from Amazon followed, which House Beautiful details: "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 fact that Alexa can interpret background conversation as a confirmation is a big problem in terms of design and operation, meaning some urgent development work for Amazon.
More about Alexa, digital technology, Amazon, Speakers, Privacy
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