Amazon Echo recorded household audio, sent it to random contact [u]

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 2018
An Oregon family's Amazon Echo recorded household audio and sent it to an employee of the family's husband, something Amazon blamed on a rare bug that it intends to fix. [Updated with additional Amazon explanation]

Amazon Echo Dot


The employee called the family two weeks ago to inform them of what happened, and warn them to unplug their Alexa devices, according to KIRO 7. They did so, and while the husband initially disbelieved the story, the employee was able to share details of audio files, such as a conversation about hardwood floors.

The wife in the family, Danielle, called Amazon multiple times. An Alexa engineer investigated, confirming the situation through logs without detailing how the incident might have happened. The company did offer to de-provision the family's Alexa communications so they could continue to control smarthome devices, but Danielle said she's been fighting with representatives to secure a refund.

"Amazon takes privacy very seriously," the company said in a statement to KIRO. "We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future."

Critics of smartspeakers by Apple, Amazon, Google, and others have worried that the devices could be used as spy tools, whether by corporations, governments, or independent hackers. By design the speakers have to communicate with remote servers to interpret voice commands, only performing a basic amount of processing locally.

No incidents have been reported with the HomePod so far, but the product only launched on Feb. 9, and as few as 600,000 units may have been sold in the March quarter.

Update: An Amazon spokesperson contacted AppleInsider to provide the following 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 customers 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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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 29
    dws-2dws-2 Posts: 238member
    Wow. I'd love to hear how this bug got into the system. I'd like to hear more about exactly what happened. What it an audio snippet or a transcription? How long was the recording? It seems like they sent a recording a "conversation," rather than just something that Alexa thought was a command.
    Solicornchiplolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 29
    vadimyuryevvadimyuryev Posts: 169member
    Woops, accidentally sent it to a contact instead of back to home base. ;)
    tallest skilbrertechmagman1979racerhomie3boogerman2000cornchiplolliverclaire1pscooter63numenorean
  • Reply 3 of 29
    napmannapman Posts: 23member
    I think the Echo's have a voice message feature. Where you can send voice messages, and text messages, to other Echo users. My guess is, since the other person was in their contacts list, they somehow accidentally triggered a voice message to be sent to that person.
    dws-2cornchip
  • Reply 4 of 29
    Just waiting for the day Alexa takes total control of a home...
    edited May 2018 ihatescreennamesminicoffeeSpamSandwichcornchippscooter63[Deleted User]watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 29
    Just waiting for the day Alexa takes total control of a home...
    Man, pulling that one out of the archives.  I used to love that movie!
  • Reply 6 of 29
    You never know who "your contacts" might be depending on pattern of speech or conversation. That may not neccessarily be accidental one day.
  • Reply 7 of 29
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 583member
    Just waiting for the day Alexa takes total control of a home...
    Man, pulling that one out of the archives.  I used to love that movie!
    I like the Simpsons spoof of that movie using Pierce Brosnan’s voice. 
    dysamoria
  • Reply 8 of 29
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,709member
    The bug was they were caught. "Sorry, [insert customer's name], your conversation shouldn't have  been recorded. It was suppose to be live  streamed for quality assurance."
    jdgazmagman1979lolliverpscooter63patchythepiratewatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 29
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,685member
    Typical.  If this happened to Apple, it would be all over the news and congressional committees would demand Tim Cook to testify in front of the world.  The media and trolls would call it "speak-gate" and get on the loudest podium to demand Cook's head.

    But no... Just like Android, people know products like Alexa are garbage and junk, and since they have low expectations from them, they get a free pass.

    Hypocrites everywhere.
    edited May 2018 StrangeDaysBryant_NorCalviclauyycmagman1979racerhomie3lolliverradarthekatclaire1pscooter632old4fun
  • Reply 10 of 29
    brertechbrertech Posts: 30member
    sflocal said:
    Typical.  If this happened to Apple, it would be all over the news and congressional committees would would demand Tim Cook to testify in front of the world.  The media and trolls would call it "speak-gate" and get on the loudest podium to demand Cook's head.

    But no... Just like Android, people know products like Alexa are garbage and junk, and since they have low expectations from them, they get a free pass.

    Hypocrites everywhere.
    Well, to be fair, Apple does get extra scrutiny because they are the largest company in the world.
    Unlike Amazon, which is the ... <checks notes> ... umm, second largest company in the world.
    tmaylolliverradarthekatnumenorean2old4funwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 11 of 29
    DonaldRWDonaldRW Posts: 7member
    I've heard many unintended conversations of others on my phone.  Used to happen to me too before I caught on to hitting the button on the upper right of an iPhone after ending a call.  How did the guy that received the message know who it was?  Was it phone to phone?  It sounds like pocket dialing to me.
  • Reply 12 of 29
    OH MY -- what IF the Employee had not called the Family??  Makes you wonder how Many Other Echo 'Conversations' are being 'accidentally' recorded but no one is any the wiser?   Scary Stuff, Folks!
    viclauyyclolliverradarthekatclaire1watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 29
    What are the odds that random person is the father's co-worker?!? How is Alexa recording and sending data in the first place too? Figured just the database would claim it but to send recording to a contact is crazy!
    edited May 2018 lolliverradarthekatwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 29
    viclauyycviclauyyc Posts: 359member
    brertech said:
    sflocal said:
    Typical.  If this happened to Apple, it would be all over the news and congressional committees would would demand Tim Cook to testify in front of the world.  The media and trolls would call it "speak-gate" and get on the loudest podium to demand Cook's head.

    But no... Just like Android, people know products like Alexa are garbage and junk, and since they have low expectations from them, they get a free pass.

    Hypocrites everywhere.
    Well, to be fair, Apple does get extra scrutiny because they are the largest company in the world.
    Unlike Amazon, which is the ... <checks notes> ... umm, second largest company in the world.
    Apple is not even close to the biggest company in the world, in turn of people or properties. It just make most money.
    radarthekat[Deleted User]
  • Reply 15 of 29
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,979member
    That’s why I don’t have my contacts in any of my Echo.

    cornchipclaire1
  • Reply 16 of 29
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    viclauyyc said:
    brertech said:
    sflocal said:
    Typical.  If this happened to Apple, it would be all over the news and congressional committees would would demand Tim Cook to testify in front of the world.  The media and trolls would call it "speak-gate" and get on the loudest podium to demand Cook's head.

    But no... Just like Android, people know products like Alexa are garbage and junk, and since they have low expectations from them, they get a free pass.

    Hypocrites everywhere.
    Well, to be fair, Apple does get extra scrutiny because they are the largest company in the world.
    Unlike Amazon, which is the ... <checks notes> ... umm, second largest company in the world.
    Apple is not even close to the biggest company in the world, in turn of people or properties. It just make most money.
    That's what counts for multinational corporations.
    magman1979
  • Reply 17 of 29
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    If this had been Apple, everybody would be going nuts. But Amazon can do no wrong. Disgusting.
    cornchiplollivermagman1979radarthekatclaire1brucemcwatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 29
    KuyangkohKuyangkoh Posts: 345member
    You get what you paid for,.... hahaha
    It would be embarrassing if the conversations was coming from the bedroom, ouches....that sounds??
    radarthekat2old4funwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 29
    dewmedewme Posts: 2,125member
    Yikes! I was thinking of moving my Echo Dot to the bedroom to use it as an alarm clock. I think I'll wait.

    I have noticed occasions where the Echo, and to a much lesser degree the HomePod, will randomly "respond" despite the lack of a trigger phrase. The responses are typically along the lines of "I don't understand what you're asking" with no subject. I attribute some of these false detections being caused by high amplitude impulsive noise sources (very short duration noise spikes)  like something being bumped, dropped, door closed, etc., or a helicopter transiting overhead. Impulsive time domain sources generate broadband frequency domain response so the detection processing is probably getting flooded with enough data in some of these impulse cases to trigger the low confidence level portion of the algorithm that causes the device to ask for clarification. 
    cornchippscooter632old4funwatto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 29
    zroger73zroger73 Posts: 719member
    My Echo devices will occasionally light up for a second or so as if they heard the wake word.

    On at least two different occasions, I came home to them quietly playing songs from the 1950s - a genre I never listen to.

    The other night, I was in bed when I heard Alexa mumbling something in another room for at least 10-15 seconds even though the house was completely quiet. By the time I realized what was talking, it had stopped. I have no idea what she was talking about. She might have been trying to have a conversation with Siri!
    watto_cobra
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