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May 24, 2018

Amazon Alexa eavesdropped on a family's conversation and sent it to a random person

Yet another reminder that technology is frightening

Technology Amazon
amazon echo alexa PA Images/SIPA USA

The Amazon Echo Dot at a product launch in London, Sept. 14, 2016.

A family in Portland, Oregon was horrified to find out their Amazon Alexa had recorded private conversations in their home and sent the audio to a random person on their contact list, in another state.

A friend who lives in Seattle, Washington called the family and said he had received an audio file from them via Amazon Alexa — a recording of their conversations inside the home. He was able to quote back to them what they had said minutes earlier.

“I felt invaded. I said ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it,” the woman told Portland's KIRO-TV

Every room in the family home was hooked up to their Amazon devices to control things like heat, lights and security.

Amazon confirmed the troubling incident occurred on Thursday, and sent this response to PhillyVoice: 

“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.”"

The couple said they called the company repeatedly, and an engineer was supposedly investigating the problem. 

This isn't the first time Alexa has raised cause for concern about our privacy. Remember when the device would start spontaneously laughing in the middle of the night? Or back in April when this constant listening problem was first discovered by engineers?

It's not yet clear why this occurred, or if the problem has been resolved.

This story was updated after it was published with a statement from Amazon.

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