A Portland, Oregon couple is claiming that Alexa, Amazon's voice-controlled home assistant and entertainment device, listened to one of their conversations and then emailed it to one of their employees.
"Danielle" said that one of her husband's employees called her and said, "unplug your Alexa devices right now. You're being hacked."
"We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house," she told KIRO-7 in Seattle. 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."
Considering the employee lives in Seattle, which is 176 miles from Danielle and her husband, she was understandably disturbed that it had been recorded and sent without her consent. "I felt invaded," she said. "A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, 'I'm never plugging that device in again, because I can't trust it.'"
An Amazon engineer investigated the incident, and was equally surprised at what had happened. According to Danielle, the engineer was apologetic and appreciative of her bringing the problem to Amazon's attention.
"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,'" Danielle said. "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!"
"Every room in her family home was wired with the Amazon devices to control her home's heat, lights and security system."
Danielle says she no longer wants to use Amazon devices, which are all over her home, and hopes Amazon will give her a refund. So far, Amazon has refused to do so. "A husband and wife in the privacy of their home have conversations that they're not expecting to be sent to someone (in) their address book," Danielle said.
In a statement to KIRO-7, Amazon laid out why Alexa thought Danielle was giving instructions to record her conversation and send it in an email.
"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."
Thursday afternoon, Amazon spokeswoman Shelby Lichliter sent this statement:
"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 customer's 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."
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