This Is How Amazon's Alexa Records And Shares Private Conversations Without Your Permission

As it turns out, the scandal over Amazon's Alexa voice-controlled personal assistant recording and sharing private conversations both with hackers and with people on the users' contact list is much more serious than the company had feared.

Amazon

As Bloomberg reported, Amazon responded to a KIRO 7 news report about a couple who received a call from a friend saying "unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked" after the company's device had shared a private conversation without explicit permission.

Amazon offered a complex, meandering "explanation" for the series of strange coincidences that triggered Alexa to record and share a couple's private conversation. It started with Alexa being triggered when it heard a word that sounded like "Alexa" - the command for the technology activate. Here are the details:

Amazon explained the series of events that triggered the episode in an emailed statement. The Echo woke after hearing a word in the couple’s conversation that sounded like "Alexa" -- the usual trigger to begin recording. The speaker later heard "send message" during the conversation, at which point the device asked, "to whom?" The pair continued talking in the background and the Echo’s system interpreted part of the chat to identify a name in the couple’s contact list. Alexa then asked aloud if they wanted to send a message to that contact and heard "right" in more background conversation.

"As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely," the company said.

The report invigorated privacy concerns as internet-connected devices like the Amazon Echo become ubiquitous in homes. Amazon in 2014 introduced the new line of devices, which can also stream music and order goods from Amazon via voice command. It has been busy introducing updated versions and adding features to sell more devices than rivals like Alphabet Inc. and Apple Inc., which offer their own versions.

The "explanation" suggests that consumers should be extremely careful of what they say around their personal assistants to the point where more users should consider deactivating the device when it's not in use. And there's plenty: more than 60 million U.S. consumers will use a smart speaker at least once a month this year, with more than 40 million of them using Amazon’s devices, according to eMarketer Inc.

Ryan Calo, an associate law professor at the University of Washington who studies the intersection of law and technology, said this incident could cause lasting damage not only to the Alexa, and thus Amazon, brand but to voice-controlled personal assistants in general (Alphabet and Apple make their own model).

People have been willing to overlook glitches in the Echo, like it turning on accidentally or without the wake word being uttered, said Ryan Calo, an associate law professor at the University of Washington who researches how law applies to technology. This incident is more alarming since a private conversation was recorded and sent to a third party, he said.

"Think about how uncomfortable the millions of people who own these things now feel," Calo said. "The real harm is the invasion into solitude people now experience in their homes."

Not to mention the damage it could do to  technology more broadly, as paranoia surrounding privacy continues to intensify, according to Daniel Kahn Gillmor, the in-house technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union.

 

Comments

COSMOS Tarzan Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:14 Permalink

My Android phone listens to my TV because I always get these recommendations for news stories based of the shows I watch on TV.  And sorry but Hogan's Heroes and the Original Hawaii 5-0 recommendations this day and age are a little suspicious.  Not coincidence, hmmmm.  Its a given google listens in on daily conversations also. 

So, like my phone goes 'will you like to get notifications of stories about Hogans Heroes and Hawaii 5-0', now I know the only stories would be if some actor dies off, but seriously talk about snooping in to what I am watching on TV.  The google schmucks.

So say one is talking about their medical conditions etc then it would be a violation of HIPAA. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) is United States legislation that provides data privacy and security provisions for safeguarding medical information.

If  I was a lawyer I would start a class action suit right away, the fines are pretty hefty and given they were listening to my Hogan's Heroes I am pretty sure I was talking about my last medical checkup with my family during commercial breaks of Hogan's Heroes.

Like that dude that brought down that web site (Gawker) that published hulk hogan's video, one could bring down Google, the HOGAN and HOGAN coincidence is funny and after all Google schmucks are Gawking, pretty sure they enable the cameras also on the phone.

In reply to by Tarzan

mtl4 COSMOS Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:15 Permalink

Don't forget to keep your stuff in the cloud too.......that's how we keep Alexa cheap (sorry, yes, forgot to mention those big *.gov contracts as well). - Amazon

 

It's just like the Jetson's only in this case Rosie is going to record everything so she can blackmail you later.

In reply to by COSMOS

Cognitive Dissonance mtl4 Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:16 Permalink

"The real harm is the invasion into solitude people now experience in their homes."

What's really interesting about this statement is what it says about "We the Sheeple". Forget all the 'scandals' about the NSA spying on every electronic communication device you use, ignore all the back doors impregnated in your computer and forget about all the other invasions of privacy which, if unseen, are unknown and unconcerning.

But bring a physical device into your own home and suddenly be presented with stark evidence it listened to your conversation, recorded it and then sent it to someone else.......well, that's just too much to deal with.

We are SOOOO doomed.

In reply to by mtl4

pods philipat Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:15 Permalink

I really cannot believe that anyone is actually shocked at something like this.  Just the fact that the person who discovered this said they were "hacked" tells a lot.  

These things were not hacked, they are operating as designed. Maybe some code sent it to the wrong place, but that is what these things were DESIGNED to do. To listen and tailor an experience for the user. How could they provide the experience that is advertised if they didn't do this?

Fucking retards, the lot of those who bought this.

Time for Amazon and Google to come out and say things are "fixed" to put people back to sleep.

I bet the "social media" outrage over this is crazy. lol

Oh the irony.

pods

In reply to by philipat

MoreSun Leakanthrophy Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:15 Permalink

More Alexa news !

The JIDF (jewish internet defense force) jew supremacists have been using Alexa to help shut down any perceived opposition to so-called israel or any jew supremacist activities.

These jew supremacist foreign agents work in your country (USA), against your country and against your citizens. 

In quotations below are excerpts from the JIDF site.

"Many readers desire to support our (JDIF) work in more significant ways, but are are not sure how. 

  1. Download and use the Alexa toolbar for firefox and set the JIDF to your homepage.  This tool allows you to see the rankings and detailed information of all the sites you visit.  Those who use it help the Alexa rankings of the sites they visit.  You may also write a positive review of the JIDF on Alexa. 
  2. Keep us posted of your work "behind the scenes," so we can take the time to properly thank you! After all, the JIDF is nothing without your help in keeping this effort alive and thriving! Help us take it to the next levels so we can be even more effective!"  End of quote from Jdif.

To stop these jew supremacist zio-terrorists:

VOTE "Patrick Little" for U.S. Senate in California June 5th !!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-W_WwSknIc&t=22s

In reply to by Leakanthrophy

macholatte MoreSun Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:51 Permalink

 

Ryan Calo, an associate law professor at the University of Washington who studies the intersection of law and technology, said this incident could cause lasting damage not only to the Alexa, and thus Amazon, brand but to voice-controlled personal assistants in general...

 

Bra ha ha ha.
That guy ought to consider getting a gig doing stand up comedy.

Have sales of the Spy Apparatus dipped for more than a few hours?
Didn’t think so.

 

In reply to by MoreSun

MoreSun didthatreallyhappen Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:46 Permalink

Typical smut filled jew supremacist response- don't like being exposed do you. Your all a bunch of rabid back stabbing murderous terrorists.

The sooner the world removes all of you jew supremacists from all positions of power no matter how small, the peoples of the world will have a much, much better place to live.

1936 Germany was a blessedly wholesome & Happy place to be.

In reply to by didthatreallyhappen

TheBigOldDog pods Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:33 Permalink

Actually, it's great for listening to the radio or music. It's also great for controlling lights and appliances. It fulfills a lot of the promises of a smart home in many ways. The fact that Amazon and the government can't be trusted is the real shame, not the technology.

I'd also point out that many of the people who criticize others for owning one, use and carry around a far more intrusive and abused device known as a smartphone - which not only tracks ALL of your communications but your movements and location. 

If you use it wisely it's a useful tool like any other and like all tools, be it a hammer or a firearm it has the potential for misuse and abuse. It's up to the individual to control it rather than be controlled by it.

In reply to by pods

TheAnswerIs42 pods Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:40 Permalink

if any Android user wants proof of this, just go to your Google account and look at My Activity (you are using 2 factor authentication, right?).

There are a sh*tload of ways to turn off a lot of these "features", but there are at least a hundred steps involved to shut the monster off (mostly). And that's only Google. Next up the IThingz and of course Micro$oft, with their blatant spying using Cortana and a bunch more sh*t in Windoze 10. Embrace and extend. Yes, we are doomed.

Luddites, Awake and Arise!

(Nahh, who is we kidding....)

 

 

In reply to by pods

Parrotile El Oregonian Fri, 05/25/2018 - 18:56 Permalink

"HAL, Open the Bay Doors..."

"I can not do that, Dave"

With the current "Smart Home" fad, that is fully possible, right now.

http://time.com/4997078/amazon-key/

Along with all those shiny new "Smart Locks" that are designed to integrate with your shiny, new "fashionable" Smart Home - all available via the same supplier - https://www.amazon.com/slp/smart-door-lock/

Whilst most such "Smart Locks" still have a key override function, some are appearing on the market that do NOT have this rather essential safety feature - https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-SHS-2920 . Fit  one of these, and your entry options become far more limited, and HAL's immortal words become far more relevant.

In reply to by El Oregonian

Parrotile X30X Fri, 05/25/2018 - 19:06 Permalink

X30X - seems Samsung (AND LG later this year) are both fully on-board with the "Smart Fridge" idea - not just prototypes, but already for sale (Samsung). Not that we "need" a fridge with 2G RAM - wonder if there's space for ssd expansion??

https://www.samsung.com/us/explore/family-hub-refrigerator/overview/

https://www.theverge.com/circuitbreaker/2016/9/2/12767932/lg-instaview-…

Win 10 too - with all the M$ spyware issues, and SLOW upgrades! Fridge lock to keep the kids out? "Sorry, unable to process your request - Windows is (still) updating!"

In reply to by X30X

MANvsMACHINE kralizec Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:54 Permalink

I don't have one of these and I never will but I imagine that when you sign up, you click a box surrendering all rights to privacy.

Otherwise, you can sue for recording your private conversations without consent.  If I hide a recording device in someone's home and then come back at a later date to retrieve it, I've broken some laws.  No way Amazon didn't cover this in the registration.

In reply to by kralizec

Toronto Kid Justin Case Fri, 05/25/2018 - 12:22 Permalink

The chip is nonsense, dunno why everyone is insisting on it being some chip implanted under your skin (this includes the authorities). Implanted doesn't prevent someone else duplicating your chip and implanting the dupe under their skin. Replace chip with a single ID card, linked to bank accounts, etc. A single ID card makes more sense, with portable dna scanners to authenticate.

I would probably go with the ID card / dna, but a chip under the skin? No freakin' way.

In reply to by Justin Case