Amazon explains fluke that saw Alexa send a private conversation to a contact

Two weeks ago, a Portland, Ore. couple’s Echo device mistakenly recorded their conversation and sent it to a Seattle resident who was on their contact list. Now, Amazon has offered clarification on the incident, citing an ‘unlikely string of events’ that prompted the device to record — and disseminate — the family’s private conversation.

The Seattle-based tech giant says Alexa, the virtual assistant that powers Amazon’s current suite of smart speakers, interpreted a recent background conversation regarding hardwood floors as confirmation to record and send the audio.

Amazon sent Digital Trends the following statement regarding the incident:

“Echo woke up due to a word in the 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.”

The couple’s home was equipped with a string of smart home devices, which were set up to control heating, lighting, and their home security system. “My husband and I would joke and say, ‘I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,'” Danielle, who declined to give her last name, told KIRO-TV.

The Portland residents only learned of the error when the person who received the voice message, her husband’s employee, called to alert them. “The person on the other line said, ‘Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked,'” Danielle said.

how to change alexas voice oak echo kitchen counter 640x427 c

The family unplugged their Alexa-enabled devices after the recipient of the message confirmed the subject of their conversation. What had been a family joke suddenly became an ugly reality. “I felt invaded,” Danielle said. “A total privacy invasion. I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.'”

Danielle contacted Amazon for an immediate investigation into the matter, and in a statement issued to Ars Technica, Amazon later confirmed, via device logs, that Alexa had indeed listened, recorded, and sent the conversation to the contact in question.

Amazon apologized and provided no further explanation; the engineer said Alexa assumed the wrong command had been given. Danielle also said that, although Alexa is supposed to inform senders before transmitting recordings, they recieved no audible notice.

Amazon reportedly offered to shut off Alexa’s communication features on behalf of the family, but Danielle said she would prefer a refund. So far, according to the Fox affiliate, Amazon has not agreed to refund the family’s costs for the devices.

Updated on May 24: Added Amazon’s statement.

Smart Home

Instant Pot has another winner with its Accu Slim sous vide

We all know that Instant Pots are the bomb, but did you know that Instant Pot has a sous vide immersion circulator too? The Accu Slim lets you cook sous vide recipes at home. How does it perform? We tested the device to find out.
Home Theater

Tipping point? Streaming subscribers outnumbered cable in 2018 for first time

2018 was a very good year for the entertainment business as a whole, but it was especially good for streaming companies like Netflix and Amazon, says a new report by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Deals

Air purifiers get steep price cuts on Amazon just in time for allergy season

Spring kicks off allergy season, and Amazon has cut prices on three highly rated air purifiers to bring relief. Allergens and contaminants in the air can have long-term consequences, says the EPA, so proactive steps can help today and later…
Smart Home

Amazon cuts prices on Alexa-controlled Echo and Echo Dot bundles

Amazon cut prices on Alexa and Amazon Echo device bundles. The second-generation Amazon Echo and third-generation Echo Dot are bundled in discounted deals with the Amazon Smart Plug. The Echo and Echo Dot are also bundled together.
Movies & TV

The best movies on Amazon Prime right now (March 2019)

Prime Video provides subscribers with access to a host of fantastic films, but sorting through the catalog can be an undertaking. Luckily, we've done the work for you. Here are the best movies on Amazon Prime Video right now.
Smart Home

Looking to safeguard your home? These are the best DIY home security systems

Looking for the best DIY Home security systems? These security kits will help you feel safer in no time. Check out our top pick and full list to see which kit will work best for your home.
Deals

Walmart slashes prices on iRobot Roomba and Shark Ion robot vacuums

Walmart slashed prices of top robot vacuums from iRobot, Shark, Eufy, and Ecovacs just in time for spring cleaning season.  With a robot vacuum on the job you can retire that old upright and let a robot vacuum take over floor-cleaning…
Deals

Amazon slices prices in half for AeroGardens smart indoor garden, today only

AeroGardens can grow up to six plants at one time. The plants grow in water, not soil, so you never have the mess of outdoor gardening in your clean home. This method allows the plants to grow five times faster than if they were planted in…
News

LG’s SnowWhite is a Keurig for lovers of homemade ice cream

LG's SnowWhite conceptual countertop appliance, on display at this year's South by Southwest, is like a Keurig machine for ice cream lovers that produces your favorite frozen desserts from nothing but a little pod.
Deals

Amazon shaves $50 off the Coway Mighty air purifier ahead of allergy season

When it's allergy season, a good air purifier is a must-have for sufferers. The Coway Mighty air purifier (now on sale from Amazon) is one of the best, greatly improving the air quality inside your home by removing dust, dander, pollen, and…
Smart Home

Dyson’s newest products strive to keep your home cool, clean, and well-lit

Dyson launched products to keep your home cool, clean, and well-lit. A Dyson intelligent task light cycles with nature and a personal air purifier harnesses unique airflow. Microprocessors in Dyson's vacuum self-adjust 8,000 times a second.
Smart Home

Smart light switches have become more affordable: Here are the best ones

The ability to control the lighting in your home can have a big effect on your living space. To have more control over your lighting, check out the best smart light switches on the market. 
Smart Home

Update your kitchen with the best refrigerators you can buy in 2019

There are tons of factors that go into buying a fridge, from size and capacity to color. It takes lots of testing and research, but we've chosen the best refrigerators to get you started, regardless of what you're looking for.
Smart Home

Walmart serves up a rare deal on the Google Home Max at $100 off

Some deals are predictable and others are pre-announced, but today Walmart posted a rare deal: $100 off the powerful Google Home Max. Since it rarely goes on sale, waiting may not be prudent. If you want one, grab it.