A Portland-based couple received a most horrifying phone call from one of their acquaintances.
“Unplug your Alexa devices right now. You’re being hacked.”
This phone call was a wake-up call for all the users who are switching to smart devices to make their homes more comfortable.
The couple has installed Amazon’s voice-activated device, Alexa, throughout their home to control heat, lights, and security. Instead, the device was caught recording the private conversation between the couple and then sending that recording to a person on the contact list.
“My husband and I would joke and say I’d bet these devices are listening to what we’re saying,” said Danielle, who is the victim.
A local news station Kiro 7 in Portland, was the first to report about the incident.
Initially, the couple was totally in denial mode, and cannot believe that their privacy was compromised and someone 176 miles away could actually listen to it.
“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘no you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘oh gosh, you really did hear us.”
“I felt invaded,” she said. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again because I can’t trust it.'”
However, Amazon said that this is the rarest of the rare case where Alexa was allegedly spying on the private conversation of the user.
“Amazon takes privacy very seriously. We investigated what happened and determined this was an extremely rare occurrence. We are taking steps to avoid this from happening in the future.”
Amazon spokeswoman Shelby Lichliter said in the statement:
“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa.’ Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send a 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.”
After this incidence, many users will ask whether there is a case where Alexa could be recording conversations and sending it to others or saving it on any servers.
Let’s hope that this is the first and last case like this.