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Amazon’s Alexa Accidentally Taped And Shared Family Conversation With Contact

Amazon on Thursday described an "unlikely ... string of events" that made Alexa send an audio recording of the family to one of their contacts randomly.

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Assuring customers of Alexa's security is crucial to Amazon, which has ambitions for Alexa to be ubiquitous

A Portland, Oregon, family has learned what happens when Amazon.com Inc’s popular voice assistant Alexa is lost in translation.

Amazon on Thursday described an “unlikely … string of events” that made Alexa send an audio recording of the family to one of their contacts randomly. The episode underscored how Alexa can misinterpret conversation as a wake-up call and command.

A local news outlet, KIRO 7, reported that a woman with Amazon devices across her home received a call two weeks ago from her husband’s employee, who said Alexa had recorded the family’s conversation about hardwood floors and sent it to him.

“I felt invaded,” the woman, only identified as Danielle, said in the report. “A total privacy invasion. Immediately I said, ‘I’m never plugging that device in again, because I can’t trust it.'”

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Alexa, which comes with Echo speakers and other gadgets, starts recording after it hears its name or another “wake word” selected by users. Pixabay

Alexa, which comes with Echo speakers and other gadgets, starts recording after it hears its name or another “wake word” selected by users. This means that an utterance quite like Alexa, even from a TV commercial, can activate a device.

That’s what happened in the incident, Amazon said. “Subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request,” the company said in a statement. “At which point,

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Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list.”

Amazon added, “We are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

Assuring customers of Alexa’s security is crucial to Amazon, which has ambitions for Alexa to be ubiquitous — whether dimming the lights for customers or placing orders for them with the world’s largest online retailer.

University researchers from Berkeley and Georgetown found in a 2016 paper that sounds unintelligible to humans can set off voice assistants in general, which raised concerns of exploitation by attackers. Amazon did not immediately comment on the matter, but it previously told The New York Times that it has taken steps to keep its devices secure.

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Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list.” Pixabay

Millions of Amazon customers have shopped with Alexa. Customers bought tens of millions of Alexa devices last holiday season alone, the company has said. That makes the incident reported Thursday a rare one. But faulty hearing is not.

“Background noise from our television is making it think we said Alexa,” Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter said of his personal experience. “It happens all the time.” (VOA)

Next Story

Tech Giant Amazon Collecting UK Health Service Data for Free: Report

St. Louis-based faith-based healthcare organisation Ascension is sharing lab results, diagnosis and hospitalisation records -- as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth -- with Google, the report claimed

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Amazon Logo is seen at the company logistic center in Lauwin-Planquin, France.

The UK government has allowed Amazon to access health data under the National Health Service (NHS) for free which the tech giant will use for Alexa-driven medical advice for patients.

A report in The Independent on Sunday revealed that Amazon will be able to access all “healthcare information, including without limitation symptoms, causes, and definitions,” excluding individual patient data, from NHS.

The deal is part of a contract between Amazon and the The Department of Health and Social Care.

In July, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the agreement will help provide better medical advice to patients using Alexa devices.

The contract “blocks the DHSC from issuing any publicity without Amazon’s consent, saying it may not issue a press release or any other publicity in connection with or related to this agreement or Amazon’s use of [DHSC] content without the prior written consent of Amazon”.

In a statement non-profit Privacy International said: “While this particular contract may sound harmless at first – after all, it is good news if Amazon uses the NHS as a trusted source for information for medical queries – we should not be naive about the intentions of big companies that are preying over the NHS.”

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Security guards stand at the reception desk of the Amazon India office in Bengaluru, India, Aug. 14, 2015. VOA

“This particular partnership also raises questions when it comes to competition regulation of dominant players in the digital era,” it added.

According to an Amazon spokesperson, the data being made available to Alexa users was “general health-related content” already freely available on the NHS website.

Not just Amazon, Google was recently in the news for gathering US citizens’ health data.

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According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, “Google is engaged with one of the US”s largest health-care systems on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states” and at least 150 Google staffers may have access to the data.

St. Louis-based faith-based healthcare organisation Ascension is sharing lab results, diagnosis and hospitalisation records — as well as health histories complete with patient names and dates of birth — with Google, the report claimed. (IANS)