Amazon has been forced to explain how Alexa recorded a private conversation and sent it to an Echo user’s colleague without their knowledge. A Portland woman identified only as Danielle revealed the odd series of events in an interview with local TV station Kiro 7, claiming that an Amazon Echo device recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent the recording to an employee of the husband. In a statement to The Verge, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed this incident took place, but it appears it was an unusual series of Alexa mistaking conversation as commands rather than Alexa spying on users.
“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 incident does sound unlikely, but if you’re an Alexa user then you’ve probably experienced the assistant trigger by itself during conversations. I’ve personally had Alexa start randomly playing songs because it thought it heard me ask for some music to be played. It’s a problem Amazon needs to address in general, but it’s rare to see a case where successive commands mean a recording is sent inadvertently.
Alexa was also caught up in a creepy laughing controversy back in March, after the digital assistant mistook common words and phrases to trigger the “Alexa, laugh” command. Alexa seemed to start laughing without being prompted to wake, and affected users responded by unplugging their Alexa-enabled devices. This latest incident will only increase the pressure on Amazon to start more broadly implementing its voice recognition feature to avoid these unusual problems.