Should you be concerned about always-listening devices like the Amazon Echo?
Amazon Echo devices have been so appealing to consumers over the past few years due to their ability to be always listening for any command. They’re commonly used for turning lights on and off, adjusting the heat, or just answering questions. But, there’s always been a fair share of consumers who are asking “what if it’s listening to my conversations,” and after this latest news report, it’s a more popular opinion.
It was reported last night on KIRO 7 News that a Portland family, who used Amazon Echo devices all throughout their home, had one of their private conversations recorded and sent to someone in their contacts list. They only discovered that it happened when they got a call from that contact, saying “unplug all your Amazon Echo devices now,” followed by the contact explaining that they received a recorded conversation sent from the Amazon Echo.
In a statement from Amazon, the company said:
“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.”
What this means for device owners
So now we have proof that what we hope won’t happen, can happen. In this situation, the conversation was only about hardwood floors, but there are much worse situations that this could happen in. Financial and business information jump to the top of my mind when it comes to details that shouldn’t be leaked. But what does this mean for consumers who own one of these devices? It means you should be careful. I’m not saying you should get rid of all your devices, as they are a wonderful convenience. I’m just saying you should act as if everything is recorded.
I’ve noticed that my Amazon Echo Dot sometimes lights up during random conversations when I didn’t even say anything close to “Alexa.” When I’m speaking with someone else about sensitive information, I even take the extra measure to mute the device. Sure, I would probably get rid of it if every conversation was sent to a contact, but it does appear that Amazon will be taking measures to make this harder to perform on accident. Regardless of what they say, you can never be too careful.
In today’s digital age, we can’t live like stupid and silly things we say within the comfort of our own home will remain there. We have to remember that at any given time, there are multiple devices tracking everything. Artificial intelligence devices listening to what we say, cameras recording precious memories, accelerometers measuring movement, GPS tracking location, and much, much more. The potential for something getting leaked online is always there. All we have to do is be aware of that and act accordingly.