Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is one Persian cat away from being a Bond villain, and people are paying him money to put listening devices in their houses:
It’s time to break out your “Alexa, I Told You So” banners – because a Portland, Oregon, couple received a phone call from one of the husband’s employees earlier this month, telling them she had just received a recording of them talking privately in their home.
“Unplug your Alexa devices right now,” the staffer told the couple, who did not wish to be fully identified, “you’re being hacked.”
At first the couple thought it might be a hoax call. However, the employee – over a hundred miles away in Seattle – confirmed the leak by revealing the pair had just been talking about their hardwood floors.
The recording had been sent from the couple’s Alexa-powered Amazon Echo to the employee’s phone, who is in the husband’s contacts list, and she forwarded the audio to the wife, Danielle, who was amazed to hear herself talking about their floors. Suffice to say, this episode was unexpected. The couple had not instructed Alexa to spill a copy of their conversation to someone else.
“I felt invaded,” Danielle told KIRO-TV. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'”
According to Danielle, Amazon confirmed that it was the voice-activated digital assistant that had recorded and sent the file to a virtual stranger, and apologized profusely, but gave no explanation for how it may have happened.
But the truth is that if Alexa devices can easily be turned into bugs if there is a hardware or software mistake and we are willing to bet that in its haste to constantly update its devices Amazon let a big mistake through.
Amazon insists that its box mistakenly heard them say Alexa, and then it mistakenly heard them say to send the recording to their workplace.
I don’t find this particularly reassuring, and neither should you.