The nightmare scenario that comes with smart speakers is that someone else somehow gets ahold of all the conversations you’ve had in front of the always-on microphones in the device. Unfortunately, that situation became reality for some unfortunate soul. A man in Germany received more than 1,700 voice recordings from someone he doesn’t know when he requested his audio archive from Amazon, according to The Washington Post.
The stash of audio files served to the man by Amazon allowed him to listen to hundreds of clips recorded by an Echo device in someone else’s home. The full archive of the stranger’s recordings was given to the man, which he could listen to at his leisure if he chose to. The man reportedly alerted Amazon of the issue and Amazon deleted the files so he could no longer access them. Amazon then sent him a link containing the full history of recordings from his Echo device, which is what he initially requested. Unfortunately, the damage had already been done.
“This was an unfortunate case of human error and an isolated incident,” Amazon said in a statement to The Washington Post. “We have resolved the issue with the two customers involved and have taken steps to further improve our processes. We were also in touch on a precautionary basis with the relevant regulatory authorities.”
These types of recordings exist because smart speakers are always passively listening. The devices are awoken by specific phrases, which they have to be listening to hear. The requests and conversations had by device owners and their voice assistants are often recorded. The company sometimes store those recordings or use them to better fine-tune the voice recognition features of the A.I. assistants. That doesn’t seem like a problem until an incident like this happens and someone else gets their hands on your archive.
It’s not the first privacy issue suffered by Amazon’s Alexa this year. A family in Portland, Oregon, found that an Echo speaker was recording a private conversation and sent the audio to a person in their contacts list. The story highlighted some of the security concerns surrounding smart speakers and other internet-connected devices that have constant access to your life.