Is Alexa Spying on You? Amazon Responds After Rogue Echo Device Leaks Couple's Private Chat

Amazon has responded after a U.S. couple had a private conversation recorded and sent to a random contact by their Echo smart speaker, saying it takes privacy “very seriously.”

As reported this week by Seattle news website Kiro7, a Portland woman identified as Danielle reached out to Amazon to complain after one of her husband’s employees called to say he had received audio files of the pair talking inside their home. “I felt invaded," the woman told the media outlet. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'”

Fears have existed for years that smart speakers could be used for surveillance purposes. The hardware works by listening for a so-called “wake word” (in this case, “Alexa”) and in theory should not react to a command until that term is uttered. In this case, Amazon said its device misheard background noise and recorded splices of conversations on a series of unfortunate events.

In statement provided to Recode, it said, “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,” the company continued, adding: “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.”

According to Kiro7, Danielle said the device did not warn them that it was sending audio to someone on their contact list, and that the firm told her it “guessed” what they were saying. Amazon said that the company “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.”

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