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Here’s Amazon’s explanation for the Alexa eavesdropping scandal

A couple says their device secretly recorded a private conversation of theirs and sent it to an acquaintance.

Amazon Echo Dot on a table beside a pair of TV remotes.
The tiny Dot is the latest in Amazon's line of voice-controlled digital assistants.
Dan Siefert / The Verge
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

A Portland, Ore., woman’s claim that her Amazon Echo device secretly recorded a private conversation between her and her husband and sent it to an acquaintance of theirs has sparked questions about just how secure these smart speakers are.

The woman, who only gave her name as Danielle, told her local TV news station that she and her husband were shocked when one of his employees, who lives in another state, contacted them to tell them he had received a message containing a recording of their private conversation.

An Amazon spokesperson told the news station, “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.”

Asked for more details, Amazon provided Recode with the following explanation:

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.”

I mean, that all does sound pretty unlikely. But the fact that Alexa can interpret background conversation as a confirmation is a big problem.

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