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

hoist the bs flag Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:26 Permalink

never mind Alexa. ZH is a hotbed of CIA and NSA activity...they record and keep every post we have and you can't delete your account.

make sure after you post you send a friendly "fuck you"

 

just the tip Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:33 Permalink

this is similar to pocket dialing a cell phone.

the only thing that i got from reading the article was there are 60 million stupid people in this country.

44_shooter Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:35 Permalink

If only half of you realized that none of this matters in the least, I might be impressed with the group think mentality here.

So, tell me geniuses - how is it you’re posting here on this forum of nit-wits?  See - you’re already fucked and just haven’t accepted it.

Rex Andrus Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:43 Permalink

Conserve energy and prevent fires by putting everything on power strips and turning the power strip off when you aren't using devices. And don't buy novelty junk like this.

insanelysane Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:44 Permalink

Alexa is the key word to start recording.  The sheeple believe this shit.  Alexa is always recording.  Alexa is the key word to begin responding to the conversation.

Sheeple, if you only understand one thing today, understand this.  When you say "Alexa turn on", Alexa already has to be ON to hear you say "turn on" and react to you saying "turn on."

See OnStar.

See Siri.

They are always fucking on.

insidious Fri, 05/25/2018 - 08:49 Permalink

How did Amazon do all of the analysis related to the details of the couple's private conversation to determine exactly how Alexa awoke, began recording data, determined it needed to send data, selected a contact and sent the conversation? Does Amazon regularly receive all the data recorded by Alexa or did they, as a part of their investigation, receive the recorded and sent data from the couple in the article?

PaulDF Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:05 Permalink

In the old USSR, they planted bugs to monitor you. Now we buy them ourselves and install them in our homes.

 

Progress Comrade!!

hooligan2009 Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:06 Permalink

two stage activation required, alog the lines of UserID and Password.

it could be a combination of words that would never be used in a concatenated fashion in any conversation and that have no similarity to any other words used in conversatio - like "orange banana" or "horse kong" or "mole tunic" or "saint hillary".

not that difficult - not sure why four rapid eye blinks couldn't be used as well is the house has got every square inch of space covered by big brother cameras.

rejected Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:31 Permalink

Imbecilic Stooges lined up to buy this junk at Best Buy. I was there looking at appliances. Man 2/3 of the store is cell phone / tablet junk. Like cockroaches to boric acid traps.

Lostinfortwalton Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:37 Permalink

All of this recorded stuff is stored and catalogued and sorted and shifted and should you become a blip on a radar screen it will be crunched some more by various programs and then by low level NSA and CIA types, finally getting kicked upstairs to the likes of........Clapper and Brennan. Feel better now?

Downtoolong Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:38 Permalink

“Lean In”, now bend over.

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I know some people might think it’s cool, but, does the pregnancy test device I bought on your website really need a secret uplink to my Echo? I mean, come on, you know how that little bitch likes to gossip. She tells Alexa, Siri, Dot, and Cortana everything she hears.

LordWillingly Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:40 Permalink

Trumptard burgers for people that are so fucking stupid they have not heard smart devices are spying on them. You to remind them because they are just so fucking stupid.

lakecity55 Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:47 Permalink

Bullshit!

They designed that Motherfucker to intentionally record anything and everything and send it to Utah. After they get any commercially valuable stuff for their own nefarious use.

I'm sure if you take one apart you'll find an embedded micro-IR video chip as well.

London..unfort… Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:50 Permalink

I am 100% sure that this is not a feature being exploited by intelligence agencies. Absolutely not. No, no, no....well unless they have a dodgy FISA court warrant paid for by Hilary Clinton.

louiedafag Fri, 05/25/2018 - 09:56 Permalink

On a positive note, Alexa has informed me that the bomb used in Toronto was gender neutral and affected all victims without any sexist bias whatsoever

JelloBeyonce Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:00 Permalink

So, as it turns out, AI is a stupid as humans themselves.

 

How many people, on a daily basis, hear only part of a conversation and misinterpret that partial conversation?  Or mishear a word or phrase, and assume they heard correctly (leading to the inevitable argument "you said....", "no, what I said was....", "no, you said .....", etc., etc.

 

 

tunetopper Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:09 Permalink

 

 

AMAZing mOnopoly Notwithstanding abusing the US Postal Service and State/Local Sales Taxes

AMAZON

Available Listening Ear of eXtraodinary Ability

ALEXA

Erection: Curved Hard On logo

ECHO

Peter41 Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:09 Permalink

My wife blew the whistle on Alexa over a year ago. We had the creepy feeling that we were being listened to. So Alexa has been languishing in our carport, awaiting execution by .45 caliber bullets, to be taken to a gun range, blindfolded and executed.

cheech_wizard Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:23 Permalink

BTW, if you want to toss out this stuff, I'll pay postage and handling for you to ship it to me. Because someone needs to hack the crap out of these things and have them do evil things to Amazon's servers.

koan Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:29 Permalink

#1 these devices are always listening, they were designed to do that.

#2 if you have privacy concerns then get rid of Alexa or whatever you're using.

#3 I wager that the people worried about these things will continue to use them while complaining about them, so really.... fuck you whiners....

JohnKing Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:48 Permalink

These devices are just data mining your conversations for ad inventory.

If your conversation contains the word "buy" and "carpet" or some variation thereof, Amazon now has that in inventory to be sold to a carpet merchant. The carpet merchant will now pay Amazon for that sales lead. It's quite lucrative.

To disrupt Amazon/Apple, etc. you need to fill their inventory with junk. If you insist on having these surveillance devices in your environment a good practice would be to periodically create conversations that transmit bogus interest in products and services.

The higher value lead data will certainly get sold to their customers, things like financial services, legal services, medical issues, foam mattresses, basically big ticket stuff.

So, a good dirty data conversation might go something like this:

Honey1: "Hey honey, we might need to call a "DUI attorney" because my "mesothelioma" is flaring up whenever the "carpet" gets dirty but I was thinking of "buying a foam mattress" next week."

Honey2: Yes honey, before we do that though we should look at "refinancing our house" perhaps it would be better to "fix the roof first".

Honey1: Yes, we can "fix the roof" after we get "dental implants".

 

Rinse, repeat, fight back.

 

 

cheech_wizard Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:52 Permalink

Friday news cycles are the best...

For some of America’s biggest newspapers and online services, it’s easier to block half a billion people from accessing your product than comply with Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation.
The Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The New York Daily News are just some telling visitors that, "Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries."
With about 500 million people living in the European Union, that’s a hard ban on one-and-a-half times the population of the U.S.

https://www.bloombergquint.com/business/2018/05/25/blocking-500-million…

BritBob Fri, 05/25/2018 - 10:58 Permalink

Amazon offers two ways to go about removing voice data, the first is individually, in case you said something rude or private that you don't want Amazon Echo to store, to remove individual records:

Amazon Echo app > Settings > History > Tap Individual Recording > Delete.

If you are planning on selling the Amazon Echo or don't trust Amazon to keep the voice data safe, there is a way to delete every single recording ever made on Amazon Echo:

Go to amazon.com/myx > Your Devices > Amazon Echo > Delete.

The goal of Amazon Echo is to offer a virtual assistant available in the house, instead of on a mobile device.

This makes it more of a family tool than a personal assistant, and can understand and listen to multiple voices.

baldknobber Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:01 Permalink

Hell I won't even talk about anything important in front of the pet dog( LabX German Short hair Pointer). I know he loves me but he  would sale my ass out for a steak bone in a second. The Border Collie would die of torture before giving them her name

Zhaupka Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:12 Permalink

PSYOPS: ". . .for Law Enforcement Purposes . . . ."

Mass Media Psychological Operations (PSYOPS)
Circa 1984 . . .uh. . .2018: U.S. Citizens Voluntarily allow Government to monitor their lives (if they have nothing to hide why not? Candy from a baby who purchased the Google / Amazon audio / visual listening / watching devices.

This is U.S. government Law Enforcement ID 0001462.
Amazon Echo / Google Home / Apple Hear: ID confirmed. Yes?

U.S. government Law Enforcement: Activate / Listen in on the inhabitants at 123 Any Street, Anywhere USA.

This is U.S. government Law Enforcement ID 0001464.
Apple Point of Sale iphone Purchase: ID confirmed. Yes?

U.S. government Law Enforcement : Get a visual via their Television or Computer Cameras or any running Cameras please.

One moment please. . . .Checking . . . cluk cluk cluk . . .

U.S. government Law Enforcement: Interrupt.
Amazon Echo / Google Home / Apple Hear: Yes?

U.S. government Law Enforcement: Turn on HomePod.
Google HomePod: Done.
Alexa : Done.
Echo : Done.
Apple iphone : Done.
Amazon Cloud Cam :Done.

U.S. government Law Enforcement : Record until Stop Command.

U.S. government Law Enforcement : Crosscheck All Banks, Financial Accounts, Relatives, Friends, and any Associates.
Amazon Echo: One moment please. . . Reporting.

"Sir. Ma'am. The fridge said "Incoming!" "Shelter In Place" "Immediately Surrender with hands above head to Any u.s. Government Law Enforcement Official / First Responder or Other u.s. Government Law Enforcement Personnel."

hanekhw Fri, 05/25/2018 - 11:32 Permalink

Before the Vandals sacked Rome they probably offered their services as housekeepers, valets and butlers to the rich and aristocratic in order to acquire the information they required to make a thorough job of it.