In an episode similar to the dystopian classic 1984’s Big Brother, it seems Alexa is listening all too well in the background than we think. In a recent incident at Portland, Oregon, a couple said to have had their private conversation recorded and sent to one of their contacts!
According to reports, Amazon stated that the eavesdropping occurred after the device mistakenly heard the wake word and then mistakenly heard a command to call someone, followed by a third misheard confirmation.
Amazon representative stated that “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.”
In the meantime, the couple was informed by the said contact to disconnect their devices as they’re probably getting hacked! Naturally, the couple is spooked by this invasion of their privacy and is not likely to resume using Alexa anytime soon.
In these technologically advanced times of AI assistants like Siri, Alexa even Google Assistants are expanding their services from offering day to day solutions, to receiving commands and acting on our behalf. There have been debates on data privacy storage, its usage, and related laws worldwide. We saw the extent of private exploitation in hand of private enterprises and government alike when the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal surfaced.
In spite of Amazon keen on fixing these ‘technical snags’, the fact remains that we are relying too much on virtual assistants. We are letting AI and Assistants record our commands and even conversations intentionally or otherwise, without knowing the extent of its usage and possible implications.
Maybe the 1984 dystopian world of having ourselves monitored and listened to, is not too far away after all.
Let’s ask Alexa.
Snigdha is a 'closet' writer with unapologetic opinions on life and people around her. She supports the cause of protecting endangered civil rights like free speech, equity, equality, and most importantly common sense.