A family in Portland, Oregon had their privacy violated by their Alexa device when it sent their private conversations to a random contact in a family member’s phone.
Every room in the family’s house had an Alexa device, according to local news station KIRO. Like Amazon advertises, they were using the devices to monitor and control their heat, lights and security system.”My husband and I would joke and say I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,” Danielle, who did not wish to use her last name, told KIRO.
Two weeks ago though, Danielle got a phone call that sounds straight out of a conspiracy thriller. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,'” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.'”
The person on the other end of the phone was no rogue government agent. Rather, it was an employee of her husband’s who lived in Seattle.
The man told Danielle that he had been sent audio files of their private conversations. At first, Danielle and her husband were skeptical that he had actually heard anything. But then he said, “You sat there talking about hardwood floors.”
Horrified, Danielle repeatedly called Amazon trying to get an explanation. She tells KIRO that she eventually found a very apologetic customer service representative.
“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.’ 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!”
While an Alexa-enabled device can record and send audio, it typically needs voice commands to do so. Danielle says she gave no such commands.
The online shopping giant told KIRO that “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.”
Amazon volunteered the solution of “de-provisioning” the communication features of Danielle’s Echo so she could still use some of its features. However, Danielle was hoping for a refund. The company, currently valued at $684 billion, wasn’t willing to go that far.